The Hunger by Alma Katsu is based on the true story of the Donner Party – a group of pioneers that migrated to California from the Midwest in 1846. The pioneers were delayed by a series of problems that meant that they ended up trapped in the snow in a mountain range over winter, when they should have already made it to California. This unplanned delay meant that they ran out of food, and it is rumoured that they turned to cannibalism to survive. A great premise for a horror novel, right?
But The Hunger fell flat for me, and I think it’s for two main reasons. Firstly, the image of humans turning to cannibalism to survive after being lost in the wilderness for months is a genuinely terrifying prospect, and I was expecting this to be a novel that explored human nature in a realistic manner, if fictionalised rather than in a non-fiction book. However, this novel actually takes this real-life scary thing and it gives it a supernatural reason – which completely sucked all of the scariness out of it for me. A lot of the time, scary things are scary because we think it’s possible that they can happen to us, and I think this novel lost that element by taking that away.
And secondly, there was no grit to this novel. It was slow-paced, which I’m not fussed about if the novel is doing a good job of building up and creating that tension. But, for the most part, I was a little bit bored. And then, when we finally get to the point where the bad things are supposed to happen, I found the writing confused and disjointed, and it skipped in time and didn’t actually portray any of the cannibalism. Writing that down sounds really morbid of me, doesn’t it? But I’m reading a horror novel to be scared; I don’t expect to be spared any description or detail of the actual scary thing that’s happening.
The book is written in third person, switching between lots of characters’ points of view. I think the author did a good job of giving all of the characters’ backgrounds and reasons to be on the wagon train, and she wrote some characters that you were rooting for. However, the novel ended quite abruptly and though you know the outcome for a couple of the main characters, you don’t really know who has survived and who hasn’t.
Overall, I can’t say that I recommend this book. However, I honestly do recommend the Wikipedia page if you want to read something deeply chilling and horrifying! I think I will be looking to see if I can find a non-fiction novel based on this story.
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