Monster by C.J. Skuse

I can never deny my love for all things horror. I really can’t, and whilst masked serial killers slaughtering teenagers in the woods does next to nothing for me, the premise of Monster really did. Plus, when I was reading it January was in full swing, bringing with it the full force of Winter weather, so the atmosphere felt just perfect…

Atmospheric Jacket too.

Atmospheric Jacket too.

Nash is in the race for Head Girl at Bathory, one of the brightest private schools in the country. Outside of the boarding school, her brother is missing, but Nash is determined to push all of her anxiety into the competition to be the very best she can be. However, as the Christmas holidays fast approach, the weather starts to turn, bathing the beautiful school in a torrent of snow. It looks like there are a few students who won’t be going home just yet. Which would be fine… Except there’s something out there in the snow, stalking the girls, hungry and relentless. Could it be the urban legend of the Beast of Bathory is true? A monstrous cat that prowls the grounds looking for a way in to feast on them all? Despite their massive differences, the handful of girls left behind soon realise that their only hope for survival is to stick together.

Any story like this, with such a claustrophobic setting, really needs to rely on the few characters who propel the plot along, and I think Skuse does an excellent job at creating five distinctive personalities without playing too much to the usual stereotypes. Nash, the story’s hero, is a driven, determined person with a superb ability to think on her feet. Her backstory, with her missing brother, allows her (to begin with) perfect façade to begin to crack and expose a well rounded, emotionally articulate character underneath – she’s bright and determined, but she’s not a superhero. She makes mistakes. I think Maggie, “the bad girl”, was my favourite character in Monster though, being thoroughly vulgar and hilarious throughout some pretty dark and terrifying situations. She’s also headstrong and forceful as well, managing to offset the relatively goody-goody atmosphere of the students well to keep the interaction and dialogue feeling fluid and fun. Regan came a close second though, her creepy obsessive nature giving the plot its sense of drama and tense darkness.

The atmosphere in Monster is what really makes it such an engaging read – the claustrophobic hallways of the school, and the stark, blinding white of the snow cutting them off from the outside world creates a pulsing sense of unease that really drags the reader through the story. The plot itself is filled with enough plot twists and red herrings to keep it feeling constantly unbalanced and uncertain (I mean that in a totally good way), and as it reaches the final chapters, it starts to fly along with a nervous energy of its own. The book brings in themes of feminism, family and survival, with a superb set of character arcs, and makes for a gripping thriller that keeps the reader glued to the page. I had hoped the mental health aspects were fleshed out a little more, but that would be hard to do without bogging down the quick, animalistic plot. It was like The Breakfast Club meets Alien.

That’s a comparison. Let’s stick with that.

It was good!

Thanks for reading,

D

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