Breeding Ground

Published February 1, 2012 by Jennifer Loring

This is my third and final Readings In Genre class, and we have not read a lot by women horror writers, so I was very happy to see a novel by a woman on the syllabus. I can’t say, however, that I enjoyed Breeding Ground. Sarah Pinborough chose to write the book from the first-person POV of her male protagonist, but I found this troublesome for a number of reasons (more on that below). She could have really played with gender issues in her story–the symptoms the women exhibit at the beginning of the book are things men in long-term relationships frequently complain about in real life, writ on an apocalyptic scale. She missed this opportunity by largely skimming the transformation (which was wonderfully disgusting when we did get to see it) to instead give us a ho-hum post-apocalyptic survival tale with an anti-science angle written, unsurprisingly, with a tenuous at best grasp of science. My suspension of disbelief collapsed fairly quickly, and I found it difficult to slog through the rest of the book. I truly felt like I was reading the script of a SyFy original movie.

I am not a fan of Pinborough’s style in general. And no, it’s not the British thing (I edit a wonderful British author). Aside from issues like comma splices, lazy words, passive verbs, and the obnoxious tendency to begin sentences with a participial phrase, I simply did not find her characters developed enough to care about what happened to them. Most were fairly one-dimensional, and the protagonist, Matt, spends too much time asking himself pointless questions and over-explaining everything anybody says or does. Despite what should be a close POV, Matt also serves as a giant sensory barrier, telling rather than showing us this unfolding horror. As a result I remained too detached from the events and the characters to be fully invested in the novel.

Matt is also incredibly unlikeable and unbelievable, and I felt as if Pinborough had an agenda there, too. Who knew, for example, that a mortgage adviser could shoot a man dead for the first time and have absolutely no reaction to it? Never mind all that crap about trained soldiers getting sick after their first kill; our manly superhero can do it all. Especially if there’s a woman involved. Why he is the only one trying to bang every woman in sight, and conveniently the only one that women find attractive, boggles my mind. One moment he claims to be grieving for Chloe (though after only two days he appears to have all but forgotten her), and the next he can hardly wait to get into Katie’s pants. And indeed, by the end of the second day, he does. And when she’s gone he naturally gets into bed with Rebecca, whom he impregnates. All of this occurs in something like two months or less, and this is the character I’m supposed to be rooting for. His excuse for everything, that “it’s a new world,” was simply unrealistic and self-serving. So soon into life after the apocalypse, no one but a sociopath would have such a nonchalant attitude. They’re going to be grieving for the world that has been lost. Humans do not like change, and they do not adapt to it as readily as Matt appears to, which makes him completely unsympathetic. Between this and all the times he mentions, in so many words, that he is a man and therefore an idiot/asshole, I had to wonder what Pinborough’s beef is with men, because Matt–a cold, selfish manwhore–seems like a man viewed through the lens of a woman who doesn’t like them all that much. 

With contrivances such as no alarms sounding in any of the buildings the survivors break into, and the widows always appearing exactly when one expects them to, the novel was drained of tension. There were also long passages where nothing much at all happened. The relationship between Katie and Matt is so forced that it’s obvious there will be something wrong with Katie down the line; there is, of course, and she kills herself. Somehow Matt is more upset over losing people he’s known for a month than someone with whom he spent five years of his life. His excuse? You guessed it. “…Chloe was part of an old world. A dead world” (281). Give it a rest, sister. I’m not buying it. Pinborough’s inability to write authentically about grief and loss was, for me, the most infuriating aspect of the book. Even if you’ve lived a very sheltered life and never experienced it yourself, you’re a writer–conjure up some empathy and put yourself in the shoes of someone who has. I could not connect with her characters because they did not behave like real people, and the book is riddled with examples. Toward the end John manages to drink a pint–a pint–of human blood, straight up, with no reaction. I’m sorry, but drinking that much human blood will in fact make you sick. However, if she couldn’t be arsed to do a little basic research to ground her story in some sort of reality–I guess research wouldn’t have fit her “scientists are all BAAAAD!” agenda–then I suppose I’m expecting too much.

Despite the widows, this is supposed to be a story about people, and yet there is barely a drop of genuine human emotion in the entire book. I honestly kept hoping Matt would die, despite being the POV character. Neither the characters nor the “science” behind the plot held up and, in the end, what could have been an engaging book ended up a major disappointment.

Works Cited:

Pinborough, Sarah. Breeding Ground. New York: Leisure Books, 2006. Print.

6 comments on “Breeding Ground

  • I have to agree… there's a lot of flaws with the POV character's design. For one thing, and I hate to say it… but I felt as though the character was written as a woman writer writing a male character (consciously). I've written female POV several times… I actually like using strong female characters, but besides one or two comments about a girl not packing underwear in front of a man (which I actually used to my benefit to further characterize her as a bit of a Tom) I haven't had many complaints about it.The problem here is that the writer is writing what she thinks a man's thought process is like… and coupled with the whole women spawning evil spiders to kill you I wondered if there was some sort of feminist critique going on in the background.To be blunt, we're not that different and approaching a work with the intent of saying I'm going to write a male or female POV tends to make someone ring false. Just write a character and run with it.

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  • I agree completely, Paul. Matt's character felt so forced and just…false. And it did seem like she had some kind of agenda for writing him that way. I was actually a bit insulted by the male-bashing vibe I got from this book, and I say that as a feminist.

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  • I agree with you and Paul, Jen. There did seem to be a purpose behind writing Matt this way. Writing the creatures as female based also lent to what I thought might be a criticism of a person living in a male dominated world writing about a male living in a female dominated world which turn out to be same kind of situation: any world where either (and not both) males or females are monstrous rulers will be a crappy one to live in.

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  • Though it is a small point, I really like how you brought up the fact that Matt didn't seem to have any kind of emotional/psychological reaction to killing someone for the first time. It's a small point, but really is crucial to having a believable character, especially since the story is in extremely close third person. That kind of internal trauma would have deepened his character. Not to mention that his lack of any kind of reaction might brand him some kind of psychopath.

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