Published by Orbit on April 5, 2016
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?
I read a comment elsewhere that described Fellside as “Orange is the New Black with ghosts.” I’ve never seen OITNB, but I’ve assumed there are comedic elements. There is no comedy in the Fellside prison, but there is a ghost. Instead, life in Fellside is dark, dark, dark, as are the female inmates themselves. There are murders, beatings, corruption, and a dangerous drug smuggling ring. In other words – probably an accurate depiction of life in just about every prison.
Into this world comes Jess Moulson, a heroin addict and a convicted murderer of a young boy. She was high the night of the murder and has no memory of the crime, but her feelings of guilt and helplessness and hopelessness lead her to accept responsibility, and she is thrown to the wolves at Fellside.
M.R. Carey’s previous novel, The Girl With All the Gifts, remains one of my favorite books of the last few years. There are quite a few shades of TGWATG in Fellside, most significantly the relationship between the female adult MC and a young child. In both stories, the two protagonists support, learn from, and occasionally rescue each other. The relationship in TGWATG was so much more moving, however, because it is the focal point of the story, and because we get to know so much more about that child. In Fellside, the child is a mystery to be unraveled, and while that is crucial to the plot, it makes it more difficult to feel the same attachment to these two characters. That relationship also often hovers on the periphery of the awful setting of the prison, where not a day goes by without something awful happening.
I think fans of TGWATG will enjoy Fellside. TGWATG certainly had its own darkness, and that ending still wows me, but I felt frustrated by the ending of Fellside. I was thinking, “It didn’t have to happen that way!” While the ending of TGWATG felt RIGHT, this one felt…avoidable. I wonder if Carey was looking for the same powerful impact for the ending purely for the sake of avoiding a not-completely-unhappy-ever-after.