Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth

forestThe Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan
2009 (Aus, US)

Mary’s village is surrounded by tall fences to keep out the ‘Unconsecrated’. It is the only world she has ever known, but she remembers her mother’s stories of the world before the return – tales of tall buildings, and a vast expanse of water: the ocean. Unlike her religious and rule-driven fellow villagers, Mary dreams of the outside. After discovering a secret captor, a mysterious girl in red who could only be from outside, Mary’s curiosity and longing are amplified.

The mood of The Forest of Hands and Teeth begins stifled and gothic, like M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, or even Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (and the film version with Winona Ryder). The world of the novel is adequate, but not rich. For the novel’s duration, there is one main focus, one drive for the main character, and despite the inclusion of a love triangle and a bit of tame lust/desire, the mainly singular drive of the book means it lacks complexity. The singular drive does mean that it’s reasonably pacy – the reader is interested enough to see if it will pan out for Mary – but Mary’s need also becomes repetitive.

The book is also fraught with small, clunky inconsistencies, and gaps – which seem the result of too-fast or lazy writing and/or editing – and which interfere with the enjoyment of the novel (perhaps rushed out to take advantage of the bit-lit phenomenon). In one part, the Unconsecrated have just attacked someone viciously, and Mary runs to the victim and talks to them for five minutes as they suffer. The Unconsecrated are conveniently consumed by the fire that burns behind them (or something). Also, if the people are so desired by the Unconsecrated, why do they never finish someone off? It always seems to just be a bite, and then the person will ‘turn’. But if they desire their flesh, what would stop them? Some parts like this have explanations thrown in later, but for a logical reader, the flow has already been interrupted, and unexplained elements don’t act to create mystery or suspense.

Overall, I found The Forest of Hands and Teeth a rather unstimulating and unrewarding read, which was a shame, because a simple idea like this – a young woman amongst the last of humanity struggling for survival (and wondering if they are indeed the last) – really has a lot of potential.

4 thoughts on “Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth

  1. Interesting you mention The Village, as that was the first thing that came to mind reading through the synopsis; sounds like it was equally as disappointing as that film. Which is a shame really, I wouldn’t mind seeing more serious attempts at zombie fiction. Does Frankenstein count? I have yet to approach Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…

  2. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my all-time favourite novels – perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to some of these new genre reads (ChompLit as opposed to BitLit we decided on Twitter last night ;-)). But though Frankenstein’s monster is made from the body parts of the dead (and is ‘undead’ when awakened) he is not really within the realm of the zombie, as he can’t convert others. He does have the urge to create more of his kind though (out of heartbreaking loneliness), and tries to get Victor to create a female. Frankenstein’s monster is a sympathetic character, a victim as opposed to a tormentor – though he becomes that through loneliness, desperation, and misconception. The first James Whale 1930s film got him half-right, and it’s a gem in its own right, but after that he often was portrayed just as a frightening beast, without as much dimension.

  3. Agreed, the monster is far too sentient to be considered a zombie – he actually has needs beyond hunger and can articulate them (I should have considered this last night but that’s what posting at 2 am does to you). Frankenstein is one of my favourites too, I’ll need to re-read it again soon. In the meantime I’ve got the two Whale films to tide me over. 🙂

  4. It’s one of the few books I have read about 4-5 times and will revisit again and again despite the groaning book pile 🙂 Oh, and now I feel like watching Gods and Monsters again!

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