Fellside by MR Carey
Book of the Month
What would it feel like to wake up and not remember who you were or where you are? This is what happens to Jess Moulson, when she wakes she struggles to remember what happened to her, having to slowly put the pieces together to discover the truth, before being blind-sided by the facts. Jess discovers that she is accused of murder and yet as she was high on heroin doesn't remember anything about the night in question. If you haven't read anything by M. R. Carey before, welcome to Jess' life and prepare to read a story that isn't as simple as the prosecution is presenting.
Jess wakes in a hospital bed where she gradually begins to remember who she is and the events that left her with half her face seriously burnt. Jess is also told that she is under arrest for the murder of her ten year old neighbour Alex. The events of that evening are fuzzy in her mind as she had been injecting heroin with her boyfriend. Jess, along with the general public soon believe that she is "The Inferno Killer". The problem with Jess as a character is that you want to believe that she didn't light the match that started the fire, but the evidence is stacked against her. Even then Jess doesn't seem like a bad person although she sees herself as one; with her heroin addiction, bad boyfriend and feeling like a burden to her aunt. As the book is named after a maximum security prison, it isn't a spoiler to say that is where Jess is heading, but it is the journey she goes on from the events in the hospital to her time in prison that really show what kind of person Jess is.
The guilt Jess feels over Alex's death leads her to attempt to end her life by going on a hunger strike. This doesn't stop her from being transferred to Fellside but does mean that Jess will not be let into the general prison population, instead she will be allowed to die as humanely as possible in the infirmary. This part of the book is quite harrowing, and as Jess is dying she meets someone who convinces her to live. This person Jess meets in what seems like a dream, gives her a reason to face her punishment as she tries to solve their mystery.
Fellside has a host of different characters, including the other inmates, the medical staff, and the wardens who protect their own interests whilst keeping an eye of the cell blocks. All of these characters lives entwine around each other under the watchful eye of Grace, the top dog of Goodall block. Grace runs everything from the drugs entering the block, to keeping people she doesn't like inline. Grace is helped by Devlin "the devil", the inside man (senior warden) - he is a bully who likes to feel in control, exerting his power over the people he comes into contact with, whether they are staff or inmates. Jess' arrival on Goodall gets everyone worked up and, as expected, the inmates are in two minds about her as she is a convicted "child killer" but also less expectedly from some of the staff.
The issue that stops this being just another women's prison story is that Jess has the ability to enter other people's dreams, as well as visit somewhere she calls The Other Place. This is something Jess hasn't done since she was a child, when she was sent to a psychologist as her stories upset her mother. Jess has pushed these events out of her mind as she acted like any child would by telling the psychologist that she had made it all up. After that, Jess forced herself to stop dreaming. Once she is at Fellside, Jess has to confront the possibility that she may have a connection to the supernatural. Or is her wish for forgiveness from Alex so strong that it has given her a sense of purpose at this time of huge mental strain?
This is a tightly interwoven story with Jess and her guardian angel (who in Jess' mind must be Alex) at the centre of the narrative. Jess though isn't the only character the novel focuses on, and her time in prison affects everyone in different ways, and some of this is physical, but as Jess and Alex are able to walk through the other inmates dreams, whether knowingly or unknowingly they start to change things. In the case of Nurse Sally Stock, she is able to blame all her misfortune and discontent on Jess, rather than taking responsibility for her own actions. Fellside is a grim place with a lot of human suffering, bitterness, bravery and guilt, with most of the inmates trying to keep out of trouble while serving their sentences.
M. R. Carey has written a thought-provoking novel that crosses between the rational day to day running of a maximum security prison and gives some thoughts to how well these privatised prisons are run; to the unimaginable concept of the human mind and how it is linked to The Other Place. This is a heartbreaking story where bad things happen to good and bad people, but it is also a wild ride where, once you have started reading, you will need to find out what happens next. Whether Jess needs to get to the truth of her story or not, you as the reader are locked into seeing how Fellside will play out.
This Fellside book review was written by Michelle Herbert
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