In the immortal words of Henry Jones Jr: “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”
Okay, scrap that. Although some people have a fear of serpents (sure, they’re slithery, writhing fork-tongued devil creatures and in some instances, very deadly), the subject that we’re talking about today is Spiders. The hairy, creepy, clicking and skittering kind that devour flesh and incubate themselves inside a living human host. That type of spider.
Before we start with Ezekiel Boone’s review of his novel, ‘The Hatching,’ I first want to you take you down memory lane to 1990. A film has just been released called ‘Arachnophobia,’ and dim the lights the scene will be set for you: A quiet residential house, located in the outskirts of Acton, London. A young boy has always been afraid of spiders, but the reason for his phobia eludes him. Is it the long-limbed legs that work independently of each other that make him squirm so much? Is it the perfectly black, spherical alien-looking eyes that make him queasy to go anywhere near one? Whatever the reason, he has decided to face his fear and has been torturing himself by watching the film. At night. With the lights off and the sound cranked up to eleven. His sister (a year older) sits quietly on the sofa, perhaps taking a suspiciously sadistic glee in her brother’s anguish. The last arc of the film is about to play: Jeff Daniels is in his basement, armed with a homemade flamethrower aerosol can. The Queen Spider that has just hatched her spawn is about to hurtle down a pipe but there’s a dramatic beat as our hero waits at the pipe entrance, waiting to fry the sonofabitch.
Just before the Queen scuttles down the pipe – just before that sharp high note hits the stereo speaker, it’s at this moment – this perfect eye of the storm that the boy’s sister flicks a piece of food at the boy’s neck. The aim is perfect, a morsel of bread or pop tart or whatever it is falling down his neck, under his t-shirt. The boy screams, thrashing about wildly, gesticulating like he’s just been jolted with a cattle prod. He feels like the Queen Spider has nestled in his hair, laying eggs and sinking her fangs into his skull. He feels that an alien creature has latched onto his body, so he wants to be rid of it. The boy is of course…me. Once the credits have rolled I realise that I have been scarred for life. I hate spiders. I hate spiders so much. End scene.
So what is The Hatching and what makes it so horrifying? It’s something that taps into primal fear of thousands of people, which is a good start as any. It’s a story about flesh-eating spiders. Spiders that have lain dormant for thousands of years that have decided to hatch and, like the Queen Spider from Arachnophobia, scoot down your drainpipe and lay its eggs in your brain. In The Hatching you don’t just get spiders taking over a house or a town, you don’t get 1950’s style sci-fi military men doing battle with giant spiders (actually, the military are involved, but when you get to their battle it’s a bit of a landslide in favour of the arachnids), you get an all-out spider epidemic that threatens to take over the entire world.
The Hatching commences harmlessly enough with a tour guide leading a group of hikers through the Peruvian jungle, led by a billionaire suffering from irritable bowel syndrome – but the trip takes a turn for the worse when thousands of voracious spiders scuttle through in a undulating wave and devour the group. The billionaire is able to reach his private jet but has an unwanted passenger on board, bringing the spiders back to the mainland. There’s an admirable level of detail in the descriptions of spider biology, but Boone doesn’t bog down the reader with too much science talk – it reads through like a thorough bred thriller and you’ll be hard pressed not to read through a chunk at a time. The novel commands action sequences with a subtle clarity; Boone knows when to offer indications of something horrible lurking in the background and when to really go in for the kill. The chapters are short, as if he were writing a teleplay – so it’s no surprise that the book has already been optioned for film. Indeed, The Hatching is the first in a trilogy of books, which isn’t surprising as it’s left on a mild cliffhanger and certain characters are left with ambiguous endings.
The characters are a slightly mixed bag. There are A LOT of main protagonists in this book. There’s an FBI agent with an ex-wife and precocious loveable daughter, there’s a survivalist prepped couple and their gay neighbours, there’s an arachnid specialist and her students and then there’s the president of the USA also thrown into the mix. There are some throwaway chapters with characters that get killed a couple of pages in, and the doomsday-ready couple seem like padding for the next installment of the book, but Boone has an aptitude to deliver these fantastical and somewhat ridiculous set pieces in a mature and believable fashion. His prose is engaging, and although the book jumps from one location to another without a hint of yielding, you won’t feel lost or confused.
If you hate spiders or the thought of an army of them descending upon the world, then you should definitely check out Boone’s novel. Just don’t flick any crumbs in my direction when you see me reading it.
The Hatching was published by Gollancz on 5 July 2016.
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Review by Anthony Self