Two days ago I purchased ‘The Hunger’ as one of my top (read ‘promoted’) books after a Kindle recommendation. It is based descent into cannibalism of the Donner Party. For some reason, I was expecting a slow psychological horror. The story, therefore, left me more frustrated than unsettled.

The author includes supernatural elements, including monster stalking and the threat of a cannibalistic virus/ evil spirit (that only the native Americans fear). Alas, for me this didn’t fit well with the fall of the Donner Party story, puncturing its horror.

The horrifying nature of cannibalism is how it can become either normalised or justified. That is its ultimate transgression – that people are treated as a means to an end. Such behaviour can be arguably justified, that it nobly intends to save lives. Sadly, for me, any supernatural element that overwhelms its victims and makes them cannibalistic removes the horror. Without free-will in the choice, the moral tension is exhausted.

As reviewed elsewhere, a virus that turns people into cannibals is an interesting idea. However, if it only affects a relatively small party of pioneers, then its effect is limited: 28 days/weeks later takes this concept to a terrifying conclusion.

The potential romance rides the book well, with some smart narrative choices that reveal dark truths. While it doesn’t really fit with expectations of decorum in the 1800s, these are pioneers, wild and exploring. That, and the readership are looking for their own society reflecting back at them I found this part consciously doing so:

Most of the people in the party were scared of Indians, always telling stories of raids on livestock and white children being taken captive, but Mary wasn’t. One of the settlers on the Little Blue River had told her that among the Pawnee, the women were in charge. The men did the hunting and went to war, but it was the women who made the decisions. The idea had amazed her.

I also sensed a style and subject matter that were very readable, but also characteristic of a learned style: at times sparse and designed to appeal. That isn’t really a criticism, but it is an indication of my increasing recognition of how similar popular Kindle books seem to be.

Whenever I criticise a book for what it isn’t, I need to give myself a few days of consideration. I thought the epilogue was especially helpful and gave an extra star for this. I finished the book in two days as well, so it must have something going for it. I appreciated the insight the wildness of the wagon party, of what it must have been like to travel into nothingness under the whims of others. Reading this text until a Kindle recommendation was a little like that.