Review Blog

May 22 2013

Wool by Hugh Howey

cover image

Century, 2013. ISBN 9781780891248.
This novel falls firmly into the dystopian fiction genre. It opens with a killer sentence, if you'll pardon the pun: 'The children were playing whilst Holston climbed to his death . . .'
The action takes place in an underground silo, buried beneath the earth as a response to the above-ground having become completely uninhabitable, a wasteland of swirling toxic gases and poisoned earth. How this came about is only partially explained towards the end of the novel. The silo has been in existence for many generations, and is completely self-sufficient. Every generation or so there is a minor or major uprising, as the inhabitants chafe against the strong control and isolation of their existence. These uprisings are put down pretty savagely by Security. There is an interesting twist adolescents will enjoy, which is that cleaning is the fatal consequence for committing the most punishable crime. Teacher librarians will also be amused by the fact that I.T. are the baddies.
The author was a professional yacht captain before becoming a writer, and he is certainly to be commended for his initiative and imagination in producing this novel. However, there are certain serious faults which mitigate one's enjoyment, and which should have been addressed before publication.
Firstly, the novel is far too long, clocking in at 535 pages. I feel it would be much better had it been edited to about two-thirds of its length. The establishing section, whilst interesting in itself, is a bit disconnected from the remainder of the novel, and in fact we don't meet the main protagonist until page 89.
There are occasional infelicitous or awkward sentences, e.g. 'It was lunchtime, but neither of them was powerfully hungry', or 'He tried to wrap his brain around it, while Alison sat in the cell . . . seemingly pleased with her far worse status as a cleaner'. In fact 'powerfully' used as an adjective appears numerous times throughout the book, e.g. 'she powerfully hoped so', and I can't help thinking this is an awkward construction and should have been edited out.
Some of the plot reveals are quite unexpected and genuinely surprising, although the denouement felt rushed and only partially explained, as though the author realised the length had got out of hand and was trying to wrap up the novel quickly. It actually ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, obviously a tempter to read the next instalment in the story, which is introduced by a few pages at the end. This is a throwback to my childhood days in the local cinema, where the hero or heroine ends the instalment for that day in a very perilous situation, and we had to wait until the following Saturday afternoon to find out what happened. Nothing wrong with that!
Would I read the sequel? I was asked if I wanted to review it, and whilst it would be interesting to follow the rest of the story, if it is anywhere near the length of this novel I won't be doing it.
Peter J Helman

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