Review of Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up
Stories have a way of shaping our worldview, of allowing us to see things differently or from another perspective. That’s usually a positive thing, but not necessarily so in the world of Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up, a harrowing tale about an infection that quickly sweeps the world and shapes the infected’s worldview for the worse. It makes people turn violent and live a life in which their only focus is how to survive. If that logline sounds overly familiar, don’t worry, there’s a wholly unique spin that sets this story apart that I will try not to fully reveal. What I can disclose is that Devlin has created a tense horror story that is quick to read but slow to leave your thoughts.
Within the short novel, storytelling is the framing device while also acting as its own major force in the world. The main threat is so terrifying because it’s not one you can run from. It’s behind your eyes, winning its battle against you before you are even aware there was one. The main character, Spence, has been “cured” of the infection, but is still trying to comprehend exactly what that means. If there aren’t any physical signs to look for, how does he know if he’s not slipping back into the disease? Self-assurance proves to be a hard destination to walk back to, and the misinformation and mob mentality he tries to navigate feel incredibly relevant to the world we are living in now.
The struggles in the book are not just cerebral either. There is real carnage enacted in these pages, and the sights, sounds, and even smells of this destruction are made very clear to the reader through the author’s description. Both the interior and exterior forces at play create a horrifying and unique world to experience. But as Spence himself declares in the opening pages, this is also a love story. Not in an overtly romantic way, but in a compassionate one. Characters that have gone through unspeakable trauma still show tremendous empathy towards one another, giving a ray of hope to the uncertain future they face. Where a story like this could focus on action and set pieces, this story gives this main relationship the spotlight, and is all the more original for it.
And though there is compassion for one another and shared trauma throughout society, the story really lives in the attempt to forgive oneself, and if said forgiveness is even deserved. Characters in this world have to deal with horrific things that they did under what they thought were the very best intentions, and wonder where responsibility lies in a situation like that. There is always the temptation to leave the convoluted and frustrating real world behind in favor of a fantasy that someone has laid out for you, but And I Woke Up is a scary but compelling argument that a messy truth is still one worth fighting for.