A maze of cliches

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Book Review: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Price: RM32.90

OF late, John Dashner’s The Maze Runner, which was published back in 2010, has been compared with young adult dystopian runaway successes such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, presumably in a bid to market it to the millions of fans that the latter two have won over in recent years.

This month, the movie version of The Maze Runner directed by relative newcomer Wes Ball, hit the big screens and seems to be raking in huge profits at the box office.

Whether or not this novel deserves to be compared to Suzanne Collins’ brilliant Hunger Games trilogy is up for debate, but from where I stand, it looks to be a very, very long shot.

The Maze Runner feels like a very weird “rojak” of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the ending of the fourth instalment of the Harry Potter series (Goblet of Fire), M Night Shyamalan’s movie The Village, and the hit TV show, Lost. Oh, and it also bears an uncanny resemblance to E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey in that both authors favour the overuse of clichés and the cold hard fact that neither can write particularly well.

The Maze Runner starts off at a snail’s pace and stays that way for about the first hundred pages, making each paragraph a painstaking read and causing the reader to wonder when, if ever, the author is going to drop a single clue.

All of the book’s characters, from the hero Thomas to the token female character — if she can actually be called that, as she is a one-dimensional “pretty girl” — are never explored in depth, and as a consequence, the reader never feels any real attachment to them. So when main characters start dying, the only response that one can muster is “meh”.

Perhaps the central problem to The Maze Runner is that its premise is so ridiculous and ridden with holes to be even minimally believable. We are told that the bunch of children who are stuck in the Glade (which is bordered by the Maze that harbours Grievers that can sting and murder them) are the most intelligent, most brilliant kids who ever existed … yet for two whole years, none of them figured out a way to escape.

We are also left to scratch our heads, wondering what is so special about this Thomas kid that he is supposedly “The One”. And why is he instantly disliked by the others, whom are all hell-bent on withholding any information that could help the storyline progress? Is it just Dashner’s way of making the novel longer than it might have been otherwise?

Brilliant mystery authors such J K Rowling, Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not write their novels by withholding information and slowing the pace down. They did it by surreptitiously dropping clues in between lines and scenes, and throwing red herrings around, subsequently brilliantly solving everything with all these little clues that the reader assumed were insignificant.

The Maze Runner, however, is a story that reads like a movie which is probably why it was made into a movie in the first place. All they’d have to do is chop off all the boring parts (which is what they usually do in adaptations anyway), keep the action going while inserting enough lulls, and voila! you have a blockbuster on your hands. Add in a cliffhanger and you’ll have a sequel or two to cash in on later. Oh wait, they have already done that...

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 9, 2014.