Review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Knox, E. (2013). Wake. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press. [Fantasy]


Wake is set in Kahukura, a small fictional town in Golden Bay, not too far from Nelson.  In Kahukura there is a small fishing wharf, an expensive luxury resort, a native bird reserve for endangered kakapo, an old folks’ home, and a new subdivision is being built.  The place is so familiar to a New Zealand audience that you can almost smell the sea air and recognise all of the locals.  That is what makes what happens there so jarring.

An illness suddenly descends upon the town, turning all its inhabitants into murderous zombie-type creatures.  The illness lasts until every last person is killed.  Except for 14 survivors.  These 14 people happened to be out of the town limits when the illness hit, but returned to town as an invisible ‘No Go’ zone surrounded Kahukura.  Now they’re trapped there – there is no escape by sea or land, and, by the looks of the Air Force personnel they find splattered on a roof, there’s no way in or out by air either.

The survivors then go about the business of surviving.  There’s a big clean up to do to stop the spread of disease, they need to keep themselves fed and healthy (in mind, as well as in body), there is a whole lot of untended animals left behind, and some very rare birds that need to be kept alive.  And then there’s the long term goals: how can they contact the outside world? how are they going to get out of the zone? what is this zone and what is it for? and who is the black man that watches them so intently but runs from any contact?

I know this book is a fantasy, and so the reason for the illness and the zone are fantastical, and requires you to suspend your disbelief.  But by making the setting so real and so contemporary, Elizabeth Knox has made a really creepy story!  The resolution may not satisfy everyone, however, the story is such a creepy, compelling, page-turner, and asks such good questions about the ethics of survival and what makes us human a lot will be forgiven.


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