So I just finished Wool by Hugh Howey and I was left somewhat stumped on how to review it. On the one hand, the book was very well written. On the other hand I didn’t really enjoy it for personal reasons. As such, the following is going to be a rather odd review, but let us first start with a rundown of what the book is about.
Wool is the story of a ruined Earth. The air has become so poisonous that to go outside results in a rather quick and horrible death. To deal with this, the remains of humanity live in a giant silo underground where, with strict resource management, they have managed to survive the holocaust outside for hundreds of years. However, the difficulties of living in the silo are not really a factor of the material, but the psychological. See, the only knowledge of the outside that the inhabitants of the silo have are one or two camera feeds that depict a desolate wasteland outside. As such, over time many start to wonder if the outside of the silo is really what it seems. To wonder what it is really like outside the silo is regarded as a damnable offense, and the punishment is extremely fitting; you are let outside. It is in this way that curious individuals get to learn the truth of their world and have the “wool” removed from their eyes.
The book is about the psychological pressures and perils of living in this closed community, and it runs like a giant psychology experiment. It is incredibly well written, layering mystery and revelations on top of one another. The book has five parts, each revealing new twists and turns of the society and how it functions. I have a masters in psychology (and by this I mean it is a passion of mine), and I feel that Hugh Howey did an incredible job setting up some of the most interesting psychological interactions I have ever read about. In addition, the life in the silo is well documented and fascinating. The descriptive prose of the 150ish floor safe house is stunning and I got a great feel for what this marvel of science must be like. However, none of this really mattered to me in the end because the book is depressing as hell.
I think it is important to distinguish between a book that it is sad and a book that is depressing. Sad books are great. When a beloved character dies, or something horrible happens, it is a sign of incredible writing. The ability to make you care about a fictitious character is an art, and I love it when authors can make me feel sorrow for the loss of a character. Making a depressing book like Wool is equally impressive but not at all fun. Wool left me crushed and filled with despair. This book is not about finding a magical cure for the world. This book is about a small group of people trying to survive the worst thing to happen in human history, and it going poorly. I feel that there was supposed to be a theme in the book, reminiscent of the original Jurassic Park (“nature finds a way”), about tenacity and surviving in the face of utter extinction. Instead I just ended up feeling like I probably would have killed myself in this horrible madhouse of a silo to simply end all the pain and suffering. This was the sign that,maybe, this book was not for me.
I again want to state that this was a great book but way outside the bounds of what I find enjoyable. If you like post-apocalyptic stories about survival, or the silo concept sounds cool, I recommend you pick it up and give it a read. However, if you are very empathetic to the plights of characters like I am, or find books can have deep emotional effects on you, I do not recommend.