The Hollow City by Dan Wells

The Hollow City by Dan WellsI do not love this book as much I would like to. It’s not solely to do with the contents of the book, or rather it is, just not in the way it sounds. Dan Wells made a name for himself by writing a series of books about a teenage sociopath who uses his emotional disconnect with people to hunt down monsters that are stalking his home town. They’re good books and more than a little terrifying. With The Hollow City Dan Wells is exploring the disability of schizophrenia the same way. I worry that he will be perceived as the guy who writes about psychological disorders.

He has written other things, so maybe I worry in vain.

The Hollow City is nowhere near as bloody and downright terrifying as the Serial Killer books were. Those books left me almost physically drained from stress after reading them. The Hollow City is more of an exploration on what it is to be schizophrenic with so much misdirection and unreliable narration that as the reader I began to question what is real. How much of life is just our color of experience and how much really happens. It’s only a mildly interesting philosophical debate for somebody who is at least somewhere within the bell curve that we’ve chosen to define as normal. For a person who experiences people and things that do not actually exist to anybody else the question gains a striking poignancy.

This book is tremendously short and a very fast read but it also takes a while to simmer into motion. The first two thirds of the book are an interesting tale told from the point of view of a schizophrenic man trying to come to terms with his reality and gain back a normal life. For the last third things kick off in high gear and go from mysterious to weird to just plain… plain. I guess that is the best word for it. The ending holds the dubious honor of being unexpected, inevitable — given the condition of the narrator and events leading up to it –, and shockingly disappointing at the same time.

I’m afraid to say anything else in detail since much of this book depends on revealing secrets and mysteries — two of which are given away in the jacket blurb.

I can say that I enjoyed the book, right up until the ending. The ending left me feeling incomplete, like toast without the butter or pizza without the cheese. I thought it needed something more but at the same time there isn’t more to give. Dan Wells kept me reading straight through and I found the point of view fascinating and the confusion and existential dilemma to be very present and real. The mystery and the twists in the plot were exquisitely done.

The one problem I noticed with this book was that the setting never felt real. I’ve noticed this in Dan Wells books before. Everything seems to have a feeling of blank white room about it so that even when wandering through a city it feels empty like the buildings and people only exist within the sight of the main character but the rest of the world fades to grey. I think this comes from the sparse prose style that Dan Wells uses. He doesn’t dwell very much on setting and scenery and thus it feels transparent, like a hologram. I can’t decide if that’s on purpose or not. I noticed it a little bit in the Serial Killer books but in Partials the setting and scenery seemed to be fully imagined and very concrete. Perhaps the illusion of emptiness is part of the main characters disorder or maybe it’s part of the stark and illusory feel of the book. If it is on purpose then it is excellently done at building a sense of traversing through an imagined realm, a hollow city, if you will.

I would recommend Dan Wells to anybody who hasn’t read his work before. If you have then you don’t need the recommendation.

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