Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: The Hollow City by Dan Wells

The Hollow City
The Hollow City by Dan Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dan Wells certainly had his work cut out for him in writing this. It's not just any writer who can write a book about a person with schizophrenia and therefore questions reality and everything he sees, and yet give it a strong narrative thread most of his readers can understand. And yet, he rises to the task, to give us this thoroughly engrossing tale.

The Hollow City is about Michael Shipman, who wakes in the hospital with the last two weeks of his memory gone. He's wary of all of the technology around him. He's convinced it's being used to monitor him, because a mysterious Them has a Plan for him. The things he tells the doctor makes everyone think of the Red Line Killer, who's been murdering people and removing their faces. It also makes them think he's had a psychotic break, and they hospitalize him involuntarily.

A lot of the narrative takes place in the mental hospital, as Michael is prescribed one medication or another to make the hallucinations and delusions stop. There are signs, though, that some of what he experiences is real.

There are perhaps more words devoted to Michael's speculation about what's real and what isn't than necessary, though it's probably more for the reader's benefit than for Michael's. It could've been a lot more confusing, and I was able to follow it where I was supposed to, and left wondering where it was left a mystery. By the end, the book does explain what's real and what isn't, and rather explicitly at that, without infodumping.

I don't know about the average layperson's understanding of schizophrenia and its treatment, but there was a bit too much expositionary dialogue to explain it. I thought the doctor treating Michael was explaining a bit too much, especially considering his later surprise at Michael's lucidity. That, too, was entirely for the reader's benefit, but I didn't find it necessary. It made the dialogue seem stilted, more than anything else. But then, maybe the average reader who didn't study psychology needs those explanations.

In the end, I found the ending quite satisfying, the whole book rather enjoyable. It reads fast, and grabs you from the first page.

I got a free copy of this book through Far Beyond Reality, but I'd be just as pleased if I'd paid full hardcover price for it. I greatly enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it. There aren't a lot of well-written, accurate stories about people with mental illness from their perspectives. This is definitely a good one for setting the bar.

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