The dive bars of Australia are filled with unlikely and unverified rumours. Rumours of an area where ships go mysteriously missing. Rumours of sunken wrecks and scattered bars of shining gold. Rumours – the most ridiculous and unbelievable of all, of a vast dark shape gliding through the water, territorial and shockingly violent.
Tyler Matthews is an alcoholic with an ex-wife and a rapidly shrinking bank account. A scarred stranger, met in yet another bar, offers him a chance at solving the third of those issues. All he has to do is retrieve a possibly-mythical fortune while avoiding an almost-certainly mythical prehistoric shark.
Feed is a story of treasure hunting, redemption, and man-eating marine fauna. It’s also a story about cannibalism, desperation, and exactly how far people will go to survive.
Michael Bray understands the key idea behind monster stories: they aren’t actually about the monster. Jaws is, as always, the best example of this, but any decent creature feature should focus on the characters and how they react to the monster. The monster is a force, a reality that the characters have to deal with – it’s not the antagonist.
And so Feed doesn’t focus too much on the monster. Obviously, as the cover suggests, it’s there; a giant shark absolutely features in the story. But it’s not the main idea. The shark is there to provide the catalyst for the real plot – it forces the characters into a situation that plays them off against each other. Mostly, Feed is about desperation – about how low people will sink and what they will contemplate when in seemingly hopeless situations.
The prose is strong enough to make that effective – descriptions of new lows and horrific acts are detailed and convincing. If you’re going to try and show the darkness of man’s heart, it helps to write well enough to pull it off; cannibalism, for example, needs to be both repulsive and compelling.
My biggest issue with this book was that it felt, in places, a little rushed. Mental states and situations deteriorate too fast, sometimes leading to supposedly desperate characters not trying obvious solutions because the plot demands that they move onto the stage of their decline. There’s a lot going on in the story, but it’s a short book – several scenes/sections could have done with more elaboration and a greater build-up.
All in all, Feed is a well-written addition to the “prehistoric shark attacks everyone” genre, and one with rather more depth and thematic coherence than the norm. If you want a non-stop action extravaganza, this isn’t it – pick one of the many other books with a similar cover. If you want something a little more thoughtful and character-driven, but still with sea monsters in, this is a good pick.