Filler content with hate

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #10:-

David Moody: Hater
(Gollancz paperback, 232pp, £9.99)

Moody is one of those Cinderella stories the world of publishing throws up every now and then, to keep the rest of us sweating over our keyboards with the thought that if you travel long enough eventually you arrive at where you wanted to go. After years of obscurity, he started posting his work online and digressed into self-publishing, becoming one of the few people to actually sell books outside the circle of close friends and family. Validation came in the form of Guillermo Del Toro undertaking to produce the film of Hater, with mainstream publishers subsequently realising how good the novel was and pitching for a piece of the action.

So how good is Hater?

For starters, it’s an entrant in the growing field of apocalyptic fiction and, if it doesn’t quite have the documentary feel of Rec, Cloverfield or a Romero zombie outing, there’s an attempt at immediacy, with a day by day account of the main character’s life as a crisis grips the nation, interwoven with various scenes that portray the madness taking hold.

Danny McCoyne, his wife Lizzie and their three children, live in a small flat in a rundown building, are always short of money and forced to rely on her father Harry for help. His job at the council sees Danny as everyone’s favourite whipping boy, shat on by the public and his bosses alike, his existence almost the archetype of that fabled life of ‘quiet desperation’. Danny feels increasingly frustrated and angry at his lot, but this is nothing to what is going on in the general community, as people turn into violent maniacs, attacking anyone who comes across their path. Isolated incidents at first, soon give way to a nationwide pandemic, with victims christened ‘haters’ by the media. As the terror spreads, with members of the police and armed forces going crazy, and people turning against each other, the McCoyne family barricade themselves into their flat.

All of this is to the good, the growing crisis rendered in matter of fact prose that doesn’t leave any room for argument or doubt. The picture of family life on a budget, with all the attendant pitfalls, is put over very well, and the question is posed as to what happens when the kind of rage we all feel on occasion spills over into something much worse. Danny’s situation is completely credible, his anger on the domestic front a mirror of what is going on in society at large, as he struggles to contain his feelings. Danny is placed in an untenable position, one that will echo with many of us, having to choose between staying at home with his loved ones or venturing out onto dangerous streets for the sake of a job he hates but simply cannot do without. Moody’s handling of the apocalyptic narrative thread is deft, with incidents mounting up, patterns forming, media spin and conspiracy theories, all of the things you would expect to find in attendance on such events, so that the microscopic view of Danny and his family effectively plays off the macrocosm of a society in meltdown. The overall picture is a bleak one and with precious little hope in the mix.

This is a book of two halves though, and the second part is more problematic. Moody takes the daring step of shifting the character point of view to one of the haters, a man filled with unreasoning violence at first, but in the wake of that outburst joining forces with other haters and realising that they are engaged in a war against the unturned, with whom they no longer share anything, not even humanity. In doing so he brings something new to the apocalyptic mix and creates resonances with the literature of mutants and evolved beings at loggerheads with homo sapiens, but he also creates problems for himself

Haters are rounded up by the military and, in scenes that echo the Holocaust, are loaded on lorries to be taken to a distant centre where presumably, though we never know this for certain, they are to be disposed of, but the docility of the haters doesn’t ring true, and we have no explanation for why the troops don’t simply shoot them where they are found. It seems as if Moody is offering us a vision of societal organised slaughter in counterpoint to the isolated murders committed by the haters, atrocity on a mass scale versus individual violence. The insight he gives us into the hater mindset, that he feels like a victim of persecution, simply doesn’t ring true in that the haters’ first act is always bloody murder, and homo sapiens are simply trying to protect themselves. What we get then is a rationalisation of violence, the suggestion that keeping those impulses in check stifles us and makes us unhappy, and only by abandoning all restraint can we know peace. Moody tries to conjure up sympathy for his monster, but he does so with sleight of hand rather than any genuine magic.

This is not a perfect novel, but it is an interesting one and touches on questions we have all asked ourselves, of social and individual responsibility, while the picture of a society in free fall is a timely one, even if the scenario being played out in these pages is entirely different to the economic turmoil reported in the daily news.

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