The Nest – Gregory Douglas (Review)

The small fishing community on Yarkie Island leads a peaceful, picturesque existence, far from the bustle of the modern world. Simple, honest folk lead the same simple lives as the generations before them

The only part of Yarkie that isn’t picturesque is the local dump. Here, modern pesticides have created something far worse than the squabbling rats. Something organised, and hungry, and filled with hate.

This is a pretty standard monster plot – gigantic mutant cockroaches with extra-strong teeth swarm out of the dump and start devouring people. Some people dismiss the possibility of the monsters even existing, and they get eaten. Flung together by circumstance, a group of unlikely heroes have to band together in the face of this new threat. Even more people get eaten until all hope seems lost.

The book’s prose is extremely purple, with lots of overwrought descriptions/imprecations and obscure vocabulary. I like ornate phrasing and niche word choice as much as (a lot more than) anyone, but there is a limit. The rapid approach of a hissing tide of death becomes noticeably less tense when it takes several paragraphs to cover more than a couple of metres. The overall effect is to make the book seem as though it was narrated by a hellfire preacher on his first day.

Just as the style gets in the way of the story, so too does Douglas’ wish to talk about insect biology and behaviour. Most of the characters are simple, salt-of-the-earth fishermen who care more about practicalities than phylogenetics, so the author has to lampshade constantly that they’re nevertheless fascinated by long descriptions and explanations of how the cockroaches could have evolved; this is an understandable tactic, but it backfires, and the already tedious sections drag even more when the book continually assures you that they are gripping.

As I have mentioned before, the point of a monster book is not the violence but the build-up to it; time should be spent on the shark’s fin circling, not the chomping. Jurassic Park is an example of an excellent monster story (both book and film) which doesn’t actually contain a huge amount of gore. Jaws is effective precisely because of how rarely the monster actually appears in full focus. Gregory A. Douglas does not follow these excellent lessons.

The Nest is very violent and very explicit. Far more people than need to be consumed for the narrative are consumed. A long, detailed description of cockroaches wriggling inside a living victim might be necessary once, but it happens again and again and again, each time in the same loving detail. Frequently, there is a quasi-sexual element to the slaughter which doesn’t serve the themes or do anything except serve as titillation for people I am happy not to know. Excessive violence is a staple of the Splatterpunk genre, but it’s still meant to be purposeful; in The Nest, even allowing for the conventions of the genre, it comes across as gratuitous and uncomfortable.

Almost all horror is socially conservative to some degree, and The Nest is no exception. At the start of the book, the author (somewhat clumsily) establishes that people of different races can coexist, and that women can have careers. This commitment to equality does not last the length of the novel; the women who survive the plot do so by taking refuge in domesticity, cooking and cleaning to support the heroic men. The underlying message is that, of course, women can be whoever they want to be, but if their end goal isn’t “docile spouse”, then they have no one to blame for their grisly deaths but themselves.

There is an inter-racial relationship in The Nest, and it consists of one (1) shared tender glance before half the couple is immediately devoured. Other characters who are punished for their sins include a frigid wife, a female scientist, and three punks with outlandish hair. The callous property developer who downplays the situation gets off scot-free, which irritated me; if you’re going to do the standard horror thing of punishing any transgression against your values with death, at least get that guy too! To be fair, I don’t think the author actually intended the message that comes through, and I am omitting some victims to emphasise the point, but the overall impression is not an amazing one.

The Nest makes one particularly bizarre choice which it would be remiss of me not to mention. In the climactic sex scene, the romantic lynchpin of the novel, the author refers to one of the characters by their full, formal name. I think it’s fair to characterise this as a bad idea, and I want to warn all authors away from making a similar choice. By the time they’ve read 90% of the novel, any reader will know who the main characters are; no one will be confused if you just call them “Peter”. If – as is the norm – there are only two people in the scene/bed, then you can mostly rely on just pronouns. Absolutely don’t go with first and surname together, because it’s an incredibly strange choice and completely dashes any atmosphere you were going for.

As is probably clear, I wasn’t overwhelmed by this book. Mutant cockroaches are a relatively original monster, which is always nice, but stylistically this book is something of a chore. In all, The Nest is essentially a less well-written version of James Herbert’s The Rats, which I would recommend instead. However, if you are interested above all else in hissing hordes, and are prepared to put up with quite a lot of awkward or unsettling prose, this could be the book for you.

Buy it here.

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