The Bunker Diary
(2013), by British author Kevin Brooks, follows the lethal trials of a 16-year-old teenager, Linus Weems, who is inexplicably captured and thrown into a bunker. The novel received the 2014 Carnegie Medal, the highest honor in the U.K. given to children’s literature. The award created a lot of disagreement in the U.K., as The Bunker Diary
has much violence and no positive ending, and the lessons it imparts are perhaps unhelpful to teens. The premise was heavily influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit
in which several adults are forced to live together in a room where they can never close their eyes.
The novel's themes include existentialism, God, human cruelty, and the annihilation of hope.
Linus starts a journal on Monday, January 30th. He writes that he was helping a blind man on the street, and the next thing he knew, he woke up in a bunker. The man wasn’t actually blind, and took advantage of Linus’s sympathy to knock him unconscious with chloroform. The bunker is equipped with dozens of cameras and microphones intent on capturing all of Linus's thoughts and actions.
For the past few months, Linus has been living as a runaway teen in London. He’s the son of a famous illustrator, and he found his life to be a bourgeois bore. He fought constantly with his father and decided it was better to live on the streets.
He now worries that he’ll starve to death in his new surroundings. He has no idea what the kidnapper (whom he calls “the man upstairs”) will do to him. Fortunately, on his third day of captivity, Linus meets a 9-year-old girl, Jenny, who gives him food. She’s not allowed out of the bunker, and becomes his first roommate. Jenny and Linus talk about who their captor may be; they both wonder aloud what they’re being punished for.
As time progresses, more people are added to the bunker. How many days have passed or even what time of day it is is difficult for Linus to determine; he notices that the clocks are frequently tampered with and are totally unreliable. Linus writes that there are six rooms in the bunker, as well as a kitchen. Linus meets a junkie named Fred, who is addicted to heroin and has no impulse control. He’s 6'5" and very broad-shouldered. Linus and Jenny worry constantly that he’s about to strike them. He curses often.
Later, Linus meets two business people: a beautiful young woman named Anja, and a plain-looking, older man named Bird. Anja is incredibly selfish and constantly complains about her situation, blind to the fact that she’s experiencing the same challenges as other people. Bird, meanwhile, is very secretive. Linus knows he’s not to be trusted. In the brief conversations he has with Bird, Linus learns that it’s quite possible that Bird is a serial rapist. Bird’s shoulders slope inward and he’s balding. Bird also starts to keep a journal, but Linus never reads it and the reader is left to wonder what Bird is writing about.
The last person to be forced into the bunker is Russell, a British man with African heritage. Russell is a renowned philosopher. He is also gay and elderly, giving him a different perspective toward life than that of the other captives. He tells Linus that he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor months ago. Through conversations with Russell, Linus learns how to dig deep into his humanity to survive this ordeal they have found themselves in. Though Russell doesn’t believe they will ever leave the bunker, he does believe they can make the most of their situation.
The imprisoned people communicate with their captor by writing down requests and slipping the paper into an elevator shaft. The next day, the captor lowers certain food or other requests for them to consume. Linus wonders if there are more bunkers like this one. How many people, exactly, has this mysterious man captured?
The group comes up with various escape plans. But as they’re constantly watched, escaping proves to be near impossible. When their plans are discovered by the mysterious capturer, they’re punished with starvation or tear gas. Other times, deafening noise plays throughout the bunker, or their food turns out to be poisoned. One day, the captor sends down a rabid Doberman Pinscher to antagonize the group. The dog nearly kills Bird before Fred kills the dog. As further punishment, "the man upstairs" stops sending any food, until one day he sends a steak down in the elevator with a note: whoever kills another person in the bunker will be set free.
Russell tells Linus he should kill him to be set free, but Linus refuses. Later, the group finds that Anja has been strangled to death. It is implied that the culprit is Bird, but the group can’t be sure. Despite the captor’s promises, no one is set free. During a fight, Fred unwittingly kills Bird. Russel commits suicide. Days later, the elevator descends without any note or food, and doesn’t rise again. Shortly after, all of the electricity, water, and heating is shut off. Desperate to escape the situation, Fred drinks a bottle of bleach and dies. As they starve and shudder in the cold, Linus finds himself regretting that he didn’t say goodbye to his mother. She died several years ago, but he still misses her. He starts to relieve his childhood memories. His diary entries almost become those of a child.The Bunker Diary
has a shocking and unusual ending for children’s literature: everyone dies. After Jenny dies in his arms, Linus is so hungry that he tries to eat her. His journal entries become shorter and more erratic. After the last entry, it is implied that Linus also dies.