Just like Vegemite, Unbury Carol is dividing opinion. Some think it’s the best thing Malerman has written and some think it’s drivel. It’s time for the Grim Reader’s verdict. Saddle up, dear reader, as we travel back to the old west. Yee-haw!
Sadly, for me, Unbury Carol was a disappointing book. On the surface, it’s a kind of fractured fairy tale in which poor Carol suffers from a bizarre sleeping disorder ( a la Sleeping Beauty) that makes her appear dead. She is to be buried by her money-grabbing husband, Dwight (alive, of course), but thankfully help is on the way…..albeit slowly, in fact, real slowly. James Moxie is the dashing cowboy (an outlaw! which we are told several hundred times) on his way to rescue his once-love, whilst the sinister cripple, Smoke, also travels the trail but has very different motivations.
I can totally understand the division of opinion with this book so let’s get the bad stuff out-of-the-way first. The bad has mostly to do with the pacing. The pacing of this novel is terrible, it’s turgid. And yet despite this, I was curious enough to continue reading. The novel’s premise intrigued me and though I didn’t care much at all for Carol (sorry!), Moxie, and eventually Smoke, both held my interest. However, I nearly gave up as things almost grind to a complete halt after the opening few chapters. Now, I get that the old west probably isn’t a fast-paced environment but there were chapters where I was literally falling to sleep (just like Carol!). Hell’s heaven I just wanted something to happen! I honestly feel this book could lose 100 pages and be much better for it, but, different strokes for different folks. The other issue I have is with the repetition. Gosh damn, there is a lot of this. “Hell’s heaven”, everybody says again and again and again and again…..but that’s not all. My tiny brain couldn’t possibly count the amount of times somebody is referred to as an outlaw. Please just STOP!
But what about the good? Well, Moxie is a likeable rogue and I challenge anybody to dislike him. His sidekick, Rinaldo (not the famous footballer Ronaldo!) is great, too, though not used enough. Moxie’s past is interesting and I wanted to know so much more about him. However, Smoke is the show-stopper, he is a fantastic character who for me has a Randall Flagg feel about him. Despite being a cripple, he is a vile human being, every chapter with him in is gold. He is the reason I kept coming back for more.
As for the writing, well, the writing is good, sometimes even great, though I found the dialogue at times to be a little boring. I did get a good feel for the towns and I was almost coughing on the dust as our characters shambled along the trail. I really wanted to read more about Howltown-the afterlife Carol goes when she sleeps-and the sinister entity, Rot, is another great character yet a woefully underused one. The second half of the book did see improvement in the pacing but not the repetition.
Despite the pedestrian nature of the book and the repetition, I didn’t mind Unbury Carol but I just can’t ignore the fact that at times I was bored to tears. On the plus side, I haven’t read too many books with such a distinct western flavour so it was a nice change to read something like this and as I mentioned before there are some great characters. Don’t go into this expecting a horror novel, you will leave disappointed, but if you want a slow, burning tale from the old west that features hints of the supernatural this is the book for you.
2.5/5 well-worn saddles from the Grim Reader.
Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy.
Pick up a copy from here.