By: Naomi Booth
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Publisher: Titan Books
Award: Guardian's Not the Booker Prize Nominee (2018)
A rather timely horror novel, Sealed by Naomi Booth is set in a world in fear of an epidemic, the knowledge of which is suppressed in a country whose government seems to be sliding into a dystopian landscape. Reading this during the beginnings of the Coronavirus outbreak and around the time of the massive fires in Australia provided a rather morbid ambiance, one that hits a little too close to reality was a very unique experience.
Alice and Pete, childhood friends that had a falling out during their college years, are now a couple. Starting a new life together, the pair move from the bustling city to the quiet countryside in anticipation of the birth their first child. Despite the idyllic landscape and clean mountain air, worry and anticipation cloud the atmosphere. Back in the city, there were rumors a new virus was affecting the public and in the beginnings of an epidemic. Not only has Alice seen evidence of this in her line of work, but her own mother was a victim, skin growing over her nose, mouth, and eyes with no verifiable reason which eventually lead to her death.
Several storylines merge and mingle here. The story of Alice and Pete, their ups and downs, love and resentment is inseparably intertwined with that of the burgeoning disease. Alice is, from her point of view, rightfully worried about a terrible disease ravaging the country. Pete only sees an unhealthy obsession with something that has no official medical or governmental confirmation and believes Alice one step away from a complete breakdown.
Behind this lays a land in turmoil. Dystopian elements begin cropping up, only just edging their way in at first before growing more overt as the tale continues. Fires ravage the countryside, forcing people into camp-like settlements that some claim people never return from. This is all happenstance too, except Alice has seen these settlements and can’t disprove the rumors. Even so far away from the city, the disease continues to spread. Local doctors don’t seem to be taking on new patients–a problem for the extremely pregnant Alice–and are soon overrun with patients who are all ill with something no one wants to admit exists.
Tension runs high within this novel, and on several fronts. Alice struggles with her fears of disease, motherhood, and her relationship with Pete. Pete struggles with Alice’s apparent nervous breakdown while being a supportive, loving partner. And, ever present, is the unsettling, quiet terror of environmental catastrophe and pandemic creeping all the way to the far corners of the earth.
Characters are fascinating, themes are strong, and the plot plugs along steadily. Yet, the story does struggle on one very important front—it’s setting.
The location the novel takes place in is Australia. Yet, there isn’t any overt way to discern this aside from a direct statement. It wasn’t until eucalyptus trees were mentioned that I realized in what country this was set. At first, I assumed it was supposed to be the quiet countryside of the UK simply because the publisher, Titan, is a UK-based publisher. Characters living in this small town all have a very stereotypical outlook. Men are crass, mystogynistic, and a little racist. Women are quiet, subservient, and love them anyway. Everything is spread out, and the newcomers are looked upon with suspicion. Truth be told, Alice’s new home could be picked up and plunked down in the middle of any Middle-of-Nowheresville town from the US in literature or TV and nearly nothing would need to be changed.
Yet, there are very strong themes and plots to be found here. Characters truly struggle, not least of all with the lines between healthy fear and obsession and, on the opposite end, total denial and a careful but hopeful outlook. There are themes of new life amid chaos, death, and destruction. Characters struggle. They love. They fear. And we do so with them.
In all, Sealed by Naomi Booth is a horror novel that has the power to suck readers in and provide an enthralling story in a slim volume. While worth a read, certain aspects aren’t as fully fleshed out as they could be. However, fans of horror will find something to enjoy here.