Recap #182: After the Hole by Guy Burt

After the Hole by Guy Burt
After the Hole by Guy Burt

Title: After the Hole by Guy Burt

Tagline: Death is always to be found beneath the ground.

Summary: On a bright spring day in England, six teenagers laugh and joke as they make their way to a neglected part of the institution they mockingly call Our Glorious School. Hidden in the dark hollow of a buttress is the door to a small windowless cellar. Behind the door, the old stairs have rotted away. A boy unfurls a rope ladder and five descend into The Hole. The sixth closes the cellar door, locks it from the outside, and walks calmly away down the flagstone path.

The idea is simple. While their parents think they are on a field trip, and the school thinks they’re at home, Frankie, Geoff, Alex, Mike, and Liz will spend three days locked in The Hole. Martyn will remain above ground, promising that when the five emerge into daylight, they’ll have been part of the greatest prank the infamous schemer has ever engineered.

The three days pass predictably: a lot of talking, some booze, flirting, a few friendly fights. At five P.M. on the third day, they drink a celebratory bottle of vodka and wait for the mastermind to arrive and release them. Thirty hours later, they realise that Martyn is not coming to let them out… ever.

Note: As before with the movie, I will take scenes at their face value and comment on them, and then loop back if they are contradicted/expanded. I’ll actually use footnotes for this though – it will be a number in square brackets. They may even be links if WordPress lets me. This makes it a very hard book to recap, so bear with me.

[Wing: I’m scheduling this post to go public on the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, because it is the start of my favourite season, and this is a creepy and twisty way to start it, and it is also a sad family day from which I want to be distracted.]

Warning: There is a rape in this book. I’ve tried to keep the language I use as non-threatening as possible, and keep discussion of it down to a minimum. However, it’s there. You have been warned.

Initial Thoughts:

This is less initial thoughts and more a warning. If you want to read the book, go read the book. It’s a lot easier now than it was in 2003, when I read it. I had to get an out-of-print second-hand copy from a seller on Amazon marketplace, using a friend’s account (my ex got me blacklisted for six years from 2001 onwards), because eBay didn’t have it.

It’s on the kindle now. It’s £3.99. Go read it, because if you’re interested you’ll enjoy the book much more if you just read it, rather than read my recap (which is spoilerific), and then the book.

The book doesn’t have much in common with the movie, so seriously, this is your last chance, go buy it and read it. It’s about the length of the average Sweet Valley Twins, so it’s like an hour out of your day. And you might enjoy it.

(Oh, and forgive some of the prose. Guy Burt was seventeen when he wrote it.)

Also, I’m actually going to note the chapters in this, because it becomes very significant later, and you may want to check something. You’re welcome.


We open with a prologue – and not a Point Horror style one, although it is a note signed “P.H.” It’s addressed to Eliot, who bugs me for only having on L in his name, saying P.H. thought he might find this interesting and will be in London shortly if he wants to add/discuss.

[Wing: It used to bug me too, but then I watched Leverage and now, very shallowly, I love the spelling of Eliot with one L.]

As opening sentences go, it’s not interesting. After learning how important the opening sentence is of a story, I always appraise the first sentence carefully. (Not in Sweet Valley though. There’s no point.)

Then we move on to the story proper.

Before we get going, I’ll just explain, this story has three formats:

  1. Third person, Mike’s point of view (in the titular Hole);
  2. First person, Liz’s point of view – specified as Present!Liz – (a period of time after the Hole, now she is ready to write down the story to purge it from her system, it’s incredibly prosey);
  3. Interview tapes, first person stream of consciousness – only one person talks, and Liz listens to them at a later date.

Chapter One – Day One

It opens with Present!Liz in first person, saying that she feels like the Hole is not finished, but writing it down will be a step forward. She remembers it was a warm day as six figures made their way into the Hole, a cellar under the English block.

One of those figures is male, and from Liz’s point of view, he was now a murderer.

We then skip to in the Hole in Mike’s head. We meet our characters, but no time is wasted on describing them, you’re just thrown in there and get used to them as you go.

The characters are: Mike, Liz, Geoff, Frankie and Alex. The first four are in the film, but film!Frankie is kind of a mash of both her and Alex, although none of them is true to book.

Frankie is eating Turkish Delight (delicious, I love Turkish Delight) [Wing: Disgusting, I hate it. More for Dove, though.] [Dove: I don’t like soft caramel, do you like it? Making sure I give back here. Actually, soft-centres in general.]; Geoff is kind of bantery, Alex is just a person, Liz is quiet, but Mike decides that she’s the kind of person who remembers to bring towels, whereas Frankie is not.

They are all in the Hole to avoid the geography trip. Except Mike, Mike quite likes outdoorsy stuff and enjoyed the last trip, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be part of one of Martyn’s infamous schemes.

Geoff wonders why the cellar they’re in isn’t used. Frankie points out that half the school is unused and her dad thinks it needs new management. [Wing: Dove’s frequently telling me how little space they have in England and how every bit of it must be used, so how in the world does this school have so much empty space? I think, perchance, that Dove is not a reliable narrator.] [Dove: Ah, Wing. That space is taken up. By the building above it. Which will be significantly smaller than you expect, no matter how large it appears to a Brit.] Alex brings up a block behind the physics department, and Liz says that’s where the butterfly collection lives. Mike finds himself mildly surprised every time Liz speaks.

Nothing really of interest happens – and that will be true for a lot of this, but it’s a character piece really before things take a turn.

We switch over to Present!Liz again. Liz is incredibly prosey, like a teenager trying to write as an old soul. If you remember any of those angsty Potter fanfics where a death eater banged a good guy, but it was loaded with prose and pitched as Terribly Important Porn (That Might Even Change Your Life), this is the kind of tone we’re at.

[Wing: It always reads as fairly pretentious to me, often in the same was as Catcher in the Rye. Which is interesting, because I hate Catcher in the Rye and I really enjoy this book. I think my enjoyments turns on two things: (1) Liz is really the driving storyteller here, and I prefer stories where a woman or girl does that, and (2) I love the movie’s way of telling multiple versions so much that it makes me enjoy the book more than I might otherwise.]

She remembers that Martyn calls this “an experiment with real life”.

Martyn’s smile was wide and easy and it sat happily in Martyn’s round fair face. Teachers knew what Martyn was. He was a thoughtful, rather slow boy who could be trusted with responsibility. He was always friendly, always willing to chat with old Mr Stevens about fishing or stop by to take a look at Dr James’s garden. He was a good boy; sensible. Stanford once said, “That boy is a damned fine head of library,” which I think probably surprised the staff as much as pupils—Stanford not being known for tender words about anyone.

We also knew who Martyn was, and revelled in the complete and wonderful illusion he had created. Because we knew that it was Martyn who was behind the Gibbon incident; Martyn who orchestrated the collapse of the End of Term Address; Martyn who was perhaps the greatest rebel Our Glorious School had ever seen. The duplicity of Martyn’s life was, in our eyes, something admirable and enviable. Perhaps if we had taken the time to examine this, we might have been closer to guessing what was later to happen. But it never occurred to us that the deception might involve more than the two layers we saw.

Liz then gets super-prosey about time changing them all and schools selling knowledge, not wisdom. This is just how Liz talks. Most of what she says is completely pointless, she just loves to sound clever while telling us absolutely nothing of interest. [1]

[Wing: She’s not necessarily wrong, either, that is a wordy, pretentious version of a fairly common complaint about education systems in the West these days, that they make students regurgitate facts rather than learn to think and analyse for themselves, but she’s just so wordy. And I say that as someone who is also wordy. STOP WITH THE WORDS, LIZ. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE THEM ALL.]

Back in the Hole, Mike, Geoff and Frankie are drinking whiskey, Alex is joining in occasionally, but mostly staying uninvolved, and Liz is writing away in her notebook. Mike seems to be paying Liz a lot of attention, noting that she keeps brushing her hair out of her eyes.

Frankie brings up that the kids on the trip will know they were part of Martyn’s most recent prank when they get back, but Geoff explains that part doesn’t matter: as long as the school thinks they went home and their parents think they went on the trip, it’s all good.

Back with Present!Liz, she’s just finished her writing for the day (Wing would approve – it’s always good to write on a schedule, I can never really stick to this outside of NaNo), [Wing: I do approve! And am writing my comments during my daily writing period, after having finished my scheduled writing.] and someone else appears and asks her how it’s going. He didn’t realise she could see the school from the attic window. I’ll just spoil that it’s Mike, because it’s not integral to the plot that he not be named at this point. He says she’s very brave, and she says she loves him.

Back in the Hole, everyone’s getting ready for bed, and we learn a bit more about the Hole, which really isn’t described in much detail about the layout. It’s mostly that it’s dark, dull and dusty. But we learn there’s a small room that faces the lavatory, where the girls get changed.

Mike turns the day over in his mind, describing how to get to the Hole, down some forgotten and rusted steps by the English department, down a passage and there’s the door to the Hole, which requires a rope ladder to get down.

Chapter Two – Day Two (morning)

The next morning, they are awoken by Geoff’s alarm, and then Liz makes breakfast for them all, cracking eggs into holes in fried bread. (It’s an “egg thing” for breakfast.) This is very much the Liz we saw in the first flashback of the movie. She’s the team mum in here.

[Wing: Why did Geoff set an alarm?]

Alex says she wishes she had a chair, she’s beginning to miss sitting in one. So we can assume that there is little to no furniture in here. The kids start to think about the things they’re missing already: hot baths for Mike, and the ability to sleep late for Frankie, who doesn’t know why the alarm went off so early. I don’t either, Franks. Maybe they’re trying to keep on a day/night schedule?

Liz washes up after breakfast, because she’s Anne Kirrin.

Then we swap over to Present!Liz remembering sitting in Martyn’s study, while Martyn holds court, passing round wine and explaining why certain teachers offend him so much. We don’t get much detail, it’s actually very life-like in that the kids do not give you exposition, but just talk normally, giving absolutely no context whatsoever.

Back in the Hole, Mike notices that already he can tell their breathing patterns apart, and some of their behaviour is irritating – on the other hand, some pleases him. [Wing: But no details on what those are, really. And they’re not important, but at the same time, this leaves me curious.] They’re discussing the difference between telling a lie on purpose versus lying accidentally. Mistake versus intentionally misleading. Liz speaks up – Geoff tries to talk over her, but Mike pulls it back to Liz. Liz says that the choice to lie is the difference, because it makes you the person you are.

Present!Liz goes for a walk a considers how people change with time until they may end up unrecognisable, and if you think she said it as straightforwardly as that, you’re not paying attention. She thinks about a man who killed himself, in a manner of speaking. He changed his name, got a new job and family and never looked back. Liz will never forgive him for that, it would have been easier if had been an actual death. [2]

She heads home and considers a box of notes for her story. There are exam papers and school reports that she’s gathered on Martyn, along with some cassette tapes, which tell, not the story of the Hole, but a story that leans heavily on it. She really doesn’t want to hear that story, but this is her only proof that the Hole wasn’t a game or prank gone wrong. Which makes you wonder, ok, Liz got out, and she must have told her story, because it’s very clearly shaped Present!Liz, so why does she have those tapes? Shouldn’t the police have them? Is Liz going to do something more than write down her story? [Wing: For that matter, why does she have his school stuff? Did she steal it from his room? Did she convince someone at the school to give it to her? Whether or not he’s real, what does she think the exam papers/school reports will tell her? She already knows that the school officials have no idea who he really is.]

Chapter Three – Day Two (afternoon)

The kids are bored in the Hole. Geoff bemoans the fact that all of his Ribena has turned into gin, whiskey and other alcohol. He and Frankie decide the only thing to do is drink the lot that evening. Talk turns to the end of term address, which was destroyed by an unspecified prank by Martyn that implied Law (a teacher?) had improper relations with farm animals.

Present!Liz and Mike are lying in bed together post-coitally. They don’t really have anything to add to proceedings, except that Liz thinks this is a dream summer and she wishes it would go on forever. Mike has a wish, but he won’t tell her because he hopes it will come true.

We rejoin the Hole with Frankie finishing a story with the words, “And when he got back, he’d missed two years and a whole set of public exams. Screwed his whole life up.” No details are given again, but possibly we can attribute this to Martyn again?

Geoff notes that he thought the Hole would be a flashier prank, referring to Gibbon and Law as examples. Note: none of Martyn’s pranks will ever be explained, so I’m just going to stop saying so. Geoff wonders if Martyn’s maturing. It’s that particular word that makes Mike realise that none of Martyn’s pranks have ever been childish – and Gibbon left almost immediately after his “prank”. As Geoff speaks, he realises this too. Alex and Liz are silent throughout, and Frankie’s comments make it clear she just thinks Martyn’s a fun guy.

Present!Liz remembers sitting in a beer garden with Lisa, Martyn’s girlfriend. She and Liz weren’t particularly friends, they were on nodding terms back then. She notes that Lisa looks so much prettier than when they were at school, and finds it surprising that she never heard more of Lisa back then, but then realises that as Martyn’s girlfriend, his popularity would insulate her from gossip. Lisa is anxious, and they decide to finish their drinks fast, and have a conversation at Liz’s house. Lisa says, “I want to talk to you about Martyn.

Back in the Hole, they’re getting ready for their drinking evening. Mike hands over some crisps, Liz brings out the beer, and Mike brought wine. Liz offers the beer around but only she and Mike partake.

To be honest, nothing much really happens in this scene, we just get to know the characters a bit more as they talk about school, holidays, exams and whether people actually like the taste of alcohol (Liz does, she likes beer, it reminds her of happy times, the others would prefer Ribena).

Present!Liz chips in and uses three paragraphs to reiterate that none of the kids knew what Martyn was really like. As always, she’s very wordy about it.

Chapter Four – Day Three

Present!Liz says that they really didn’t do much with the first three days in the Hole, they drank and got used to each other, and got snippy with each other. And then she uses four paragraphs to say absolutely nothing. If pushed to summarise, I’d go with “time goes by”. [Wing: I’m always torn over whether this is intentional or not on the part of Burt. I mean, it could be read as Liz being unable to get to the point because she doesn’t actually want to get to the point, because even in this story she’s spinning, a part of her knows the real ending. On the other hand, it really feels like an inexperienced author trying to fill space in a way that builds a certain mood but falls a little short.] [Dove: Also, I think it’s also an active attempt to put more distance between Present!Liz and The Hole. The older she sounds, the older she must be, and therefore the more time since she was last in The Hole. But yes, since Burt was seventeen when he wrote this, I can’t disagree with the inexperience angle either.]

Mike wakes up with a hangover, and only Liz is awake so far. She’s reading a book by torchlight. Mike is impressed that she thought to bring a torch, especially when she says that lightbulbs burn out. He compliments her, and she says she’s used to taking care of herself. After a bit more conversation, she shows him something – she can see a faint light coming through the keyhole of the Hole door, it’s their own private star. She tells him not to tell anyone else, it’s an early morning secret for them.

Present!Liz goes for a walk with Mike. She tells him that the story goes further back than the Hole or the school, but there’s a lot she can’t find out. Mike asks if he wants to know what they got right, she says it won’t be good news.

Now we get our first audio tape, and it’s Lisa speaking. She’s Martyn’s girlfriend. How creepy is it that Liz is making recordings of people’s conversations about him? Well, not creepy, maybe. Sad. Because she clearly hasn’t gotten justice. [Wing: Curious, too, because if people are so frightened of Martyn, why would they allow themselves to be recorded, and if they don’t know about it, then Liz is also kind of terrible.]

Lisa’s conversations are just stream of consciousness, complete with terrible grammar, badly-formed sentences, and changing her mind halfway through a sentence. Lisa’s sections are very jumbled.

Towards the end of their relationship, Martyn started talking to her, saying he used to be very different, and Liz wants to listen, because if he’s talking about him, he won’t get around to discussing them. Martyn was constantly daydreaming of things “too grand” for anyone else to comprehend. He lived with his aunt and uncle, who seemed quite nice. She swears she didn’t know about the Hole until it was too late.

She felt like she was doing something wrong in the relationship. Everyone found Martyn to be so awesome, and it made Lisa feel ungrateful for wanting to end it. Initially, she thought she loved him, because she got swept up by his charisma and popularity, but occasionally his façade would slip, and she would realise he never laughed at his jokes – he only called them jokes so that everyone would say, “it’s just a joke”. Looking back, she realises that they were practice runs, but the goal wasn’t fun.

In the Hole, the kids are talking about what they were doing this time last year. Frankie was partying, Alex was in France, Geoff was around, Mike had the flu and Liz was building a shed. Frankie comments that Liz gets a lot of stuff done, and Mike changes the subject, feeling some kind of need to protect Liz from awkward questions.

Present!Liz rambles again, largely the point is: when she’s writing, the Hole is very much with her, but she’ll hear her mother slam a door, and she’ll go downstairs to eat, and it recedes. [3]

Chapter Five – Day Three

The kids are in good spirits after lunch on their last day in the Hole. Geoff has booze, Liz has lemonade, they drink and pass it around.

Present!Liz remembers Martyn finding her sitting on a bench behind the arch. She’d been watching the field trip leave, and Martyn is very concerned that someone saw her. Liz reassures him that she was smart enough not to be seen. Martyn takes a seat beside her (we learn he has fair hair), and says he feels almost slighted that he’s never considered as a potential prankster by the staff. The teachers are old school, and only suspect the smokers in their leather jackets.

Liz asks if he’s the new brand of rebel. Martyn says the perfect rebel is just like the perfect criminal, someone who’s never suspected.

I nodded, understanding. “But the whole school knows about you,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not the perfect rebel by a long way,” he said casually. “Just a hobby, right?”

“Right,” I said, confused; it was a joke, but he hadn’t said it as a joke. “So what’s the perfect crime, then?”

Martyn frowned, as if he’d never thought about it.

“The crime no-one even knows about,” he said at last.

“That’s how I had it, too,” I agreed.

She berates herself for not noticing that he took a moment to think about his answer, when someone like Martyn has thought of all of the answers in advance. Martyn says all aspiring pranksters should think big, because half-arsing will get you expelled. Like the Law thing (the farmyard animal prank), it had to be that big so that nobody would go looking for a culprit, because to do so would imply that Law really did bugger sheep. Liz says she pities the university that ends up with him, but Martyn says that jokes are on the way out, and his “experiment with real life” is the new thing.

In the Hole, the kids are very tipsy and giddy that it’s nearly home time – at 4pm, they only have an hour to go. Mike realises that climbing the rope latter might be tricky in his condition. There’s a lot of talk about who’s a good egg in this scene (is this why Liz referred to her crush in the movie as “an egg thing”?) and I always find it funny because Frankie is spearheading this “good egg” crusade, and she’s played by Keira Knightley who taught Captain Jack Sparrow a song about good eggs. I know it’s a tenuous link but my brain likes it, so don’t judge me, ok?

Present!Liz bumps into Alex on one of her walks. They try to talk, but it’s awkward. They get a drink together, but don’t have much to say and Alex leaves as soon as she can. Liz feels like screaming after her, “I saved your life! Haven’t you got more to say to me than that?” which makes her feel very ashamed.

In the Hole, most of them are tipsy, Mike in particular. Five o’clock (pm) rolls around, but Martyn does not. This isn’t seen as a big deal, nobody actually specified it would be three days precisely down to the minute, and, as I mentioned, they’re a little bit gazebo’d.

Present!Liz isn’t sure who first said the words, “He’s not going to come, is he,” (it’s not a question, it’s a statement), but she thinks it was Alex. Their first instinct is that he’ll come by tomorrow with a reason why he was late. A few of them think his “lateness” is the twist and are pleased with themselves for spotting it. Nobody progresses that thought any further. She recalls that she did not sleep well that night. (So maybe she did progress that thought, actually.)

Chapter Six – Day Four

Present!Liz goes for a walk – it’s a hot summer day – and meets Mike at the arches leading to the school. He asks how the writing is going, and she says that she hopes to be finished by the end of the summer. As they walk to the village, Liz imagines herself as Martyn, walking away from the Hole, having just locked everyone in with no intention of returning. She thinks he’s a psychopath, but the term is too mild for him. She describes him as a brilliant scientist leaning over a petri dish of tiny creatures, and he doesn’t care if they live or die, because he wants to see what happens next. The loss of life is irrelevant, he wants an answer, and he’s entitled, because he’s the only person in his universe.

For a story written so long ago, that’s actually surprisingly progressive about mental health, whether it meant to be or not. Martyn is not just someone who lacks the ability to empathise with other beings, it’s the curiosity, the disregard, the absolute lack of respect for everything else on the planet that makes him the monster. It’s not just “he’s crazy, end of” as was often the case in Point Horror. And I appreciate the difference a single paragraph makes.

[Wing: Agreed. I also love the petri dish analogy and that cold curiousity as destructive, because it can be.]

Mike brings Present!Liz back to now, and says he wants to go to America before university, preferably with her. This is possibly why Mike was American in the movie. If this is before university, this really doesn’t put them far out of the Hole at all. The Hole was during the Easter holidays of the first years of A-levels (the lower sixth form), which is a two-year course, followed by university. (Exams were mentioned earlier, and Lisa confirms they’re in their first year of A-levels later.) So basically a year and a few months have passed.

Mike and Present!Liz then engage in some very clunky dialogue:

I said, “I really do love you, don’t I?”

“Getting rhetorical on me? Of course, I’m not sure that being loved by you is safe. You being so like Martyn, and so on.”

It was my turn to sigh. “Yes. That was it, wasn’t it? The twist. Quite a twist, too—to write my own way out of the Hole, I mean…”

Liz brings this up often in the book, that she’s very similar to Martyn, and while it saved them, she’s ashamed of being able to think like him. She comments that Martyn would have seen through her plan if he’d considered earlier on that he might be thwarted. Because it had never previously occurred to him that his subjects might have plans of their own, he panicked when faced with hers. If he’d thought about it logically, he would have seen the bluff.

Liz worries that Martyn isn’t done – he’s finished with them, but he could strike again, a new set of people, a new experiment in real life, and this time his plan will be even more polished because he learned from the Hole. But what can she do about things? Mike says they could have turned Martyn into the police because he’s a murderer.

Liz says no, he’s just a young schoolboy who was involved in a silly prank that went wrong. Nobody was hurt. Nobody died. It’s impossible to prosecute someone for murder when the corpses are actually still walking around, alive and functioning.

Well, that explains why the police didn’t action things particularly well, and why Liz has all the evidence she does. I think. [Wing: It still doesn’t answer my question about how she has that bunch of school things.]

That was actually a lot of information from Present!Liz, who tends to just waffle and say nothing.

Back in the Hole, Mike wakes up with a rotten hangover, which he initially mistakes for illness, and panics at the idea that he’s trapped by Martyn when he needs medical assistance. [4]

He drinks some water, and they turn the main light on, and Frankie snaps that she’s fed up and her parents are going to kill her for being late. Geoff reminds her that her parents won’t expect her until next week. He then says that Martyn probably wants to know how they’d react to being late, and they’ll have a big laugh over it later.

Liz gives Mike some paracetamol, and he again admires her resourcefulness. Alex then bursts out that she’s figured it out. Martyn wouldn’t do something as childish as forget them or be late to let them out, so there’s probably a reason he’s not come to get them, like someone’s at his house, where they were all going to hide out until the end of the trip. Martyn will wait until the problem resolves, and then let them out.

This theory cheers everyone and they start to talk about cooking the rest of their food. Liz says they should go easy on the food, just in case whatever’s taking Martyn so long isn’t resolved by supper.

Next up is another tape of Lisa. She talks about how one of her friends introduced her to Martyn at a club in London. Lisa was flattered because she was new at school, and it was nice to be included. Even more so when Mr Popularity, Martyn himself, wanted to talk to her. When they get a moment alone to talk, he says he’d like to talk to her more – she reminds him of someone he used to know. This flattery gives Lisa a sense of self-worth. She’s no longer a hanger-on and the new girl, she’s a person in her own right.

Present!Liz doesn’t blame Lisa for that reaction, he’s very charismatic. Listening to the tape makes her realise that she can never say sorry, take it back or make it right, and it hurts. [5]

Chapter Seven – Day Four

In the Hole, tempers are fraying. Everyone’s hungry, there’s not much food, and Mike is ravenous because he passed on breakfast because of his hangover. They divide out small portions and eat them sulkily.

As the afternoon wears on, Mike stares at Liz a lot. She’s mostly focused on her notepad, but occasionally smiles at him. At some point, Mike has a revelation: Marty didn’t make mistakes. If this isn’t a mistake, it’s deliberate. And that makes Martyn pretty much god.

Present!Liz goes swimming in the local river. She doesn’t even think deep thoughts, she just swims and fills up the page with description of mud and weeds. Liz, honey, fuck off.

Back in the Hole, Mike brings up the fact that Martyn doesn’t make mistakes. After quite a tense discussion, wherein we can see that Geoff is actually way ahead of everyone else, they realise that they’re in the very unfortunate position of hoping that they’ve been locked in deliberately. If Martyn hasn’t done it deliberately, then he’s dead or in hospital or something and they haven’t a hope. If it is deliberate, then maybe he’ll let them out.

Another Lisa tape. She doesn’t say much, just that occasionally Martyn would zone out, like something else had caught his attention, and that’s when she thinks he was dreaming up his pranks. She felt like he was a character, not a real person.

HELP! - The Hole (2001)

And back to the Hole, where Mike, Alex and Frankie are shouting for help.

Geoff and Liz do not bother to help. Alex only pesters Geoff about not getting involved, and Geoff explains it’s a waste of time, they’re underground and there’s nobody around. Alex says at least they (the shouters) care about their plight. Geoff snaps that he cares, only an idiot wouldn’t, but there’s no point wasting his breath. Frankie says that even if there’s nothing they can do that will save them, they won’t give in.

“Wonderful,” Geoff said. “That’s all right, then. As long as we don’t give in.”

I really love Geoff at times. I love him throughout the movie, and a lot of times in the book, and this is one of them. In this scene it’s very clear that despite the fact he’s appeared a bit booze-happy so far, he’s actually fairly logical and come to a sound conclusion.

Throughout this exchange, Mike has an eye on Liz, who’s reading her notebooks again, only occasionally flicking her eyes towards the scene that’s unfolding. She’s completely impassive, and Mike wonders if underneath it all she’s as terrified as him. Their eyes meet and she looks deep in thought, and he wonders what she’s thinking about.

Frankie asks in a small voice whether they think someone will find them. After an awkward silence, Liz says that people can live for a long time just on water, without any food at all – weeks, not days. Mike asks if she’s sure, and when she says yes, he thinks she’s lying.

Present!Liz says that since there was nothing they could do, they just did nothing. And of course, it takes her four paragraphs to tell us something we’ve seen in the scene before. Shut up, Liz. [Wing: I wonder sometimes if the Present!Liz issues come from forcing all parts of the story to fit the frame of the book. A lot of these sections read as filler and not in the way that Present!Liz-the-writer is trying to avoid dealing with a terrible situation.]

Chapter Eight – Day Four

Everyone goes to bed hungry and frightened. Before Mike falls asleep – after much anxiety and restlessness – he looks for the “star”, the tiny light shining through the keyhole, and thinks that it winks at him.

Present!Liz absolutely cannot forgive herself for being caught up in Martyn’s notoriety and charisma, because looking objectively, this “joke” could so easily go wrong. She’s so resourceful and self-reliant, she can’t believe she was that easy to trick. She can just about understand that if the whole school was under Martyn’s spell, it’s not so strange that she was, but she still can’t forgive herself.

Mike wakes up before Geoff’s alarm, and heads to the bathroom. Liz comes in when he’s done and tells him not to flush. She turns on a torch – obviously, she’s the only one who thought to bring one – and he sees she’s carrying an empty bottle. They talk in the room opposite the bathroom, and Liz says that Geoff’s figured out exactly where they stand, Frankie’s halfway there, she doesn’t mention Alex. Liz says she thinks the next stage is coming – she’s not certain, but they’ll find out for sure soon. She asks Mike what he’s thinking about their situation. He says that everything’s gone wrong. Liz says no, she thinks everything’s going according to Martyn’s plan. And she’s scared. He says he is too. Then Liz says it’s time to test her theory. They head back to the bathroom, and Liz attempts to fill the lemonade bottle from the tap. She manages to fill it about halfway before the water gives out.

Mike thinks it’s run out of water. Liz says no, it’s been turned off. Doesn’t he get it? She realised this afternoon, when she told them that they could survive for weeks without food as long as they have water. If that was true, the water would go off soon after. Mike asks what can they do now, if Martyn’s one step ahead of them. Liz says she has an idea, she has to think like Martyn and figure out how to get out. Liz points out there’s water in the cistern, so they have more than just her bottle of water. Mike realises he could have easily flushed their water away without Liz thinking hard about ways to survive.

He asks why Liz is sharing her thoughts, and she says that it feels right, that they’re thinking in the right direction. Uh, no Liz, Geoff is thinking along the same lines as you (although Liz says he’s given up already), Mike is clueless. Just admit he’s a bit fanciable! She says maybe because she shared their secret star with him, which prompts Mike to tell her it winked earlier. Liz cautions him not to go crazy (*winces*). [Wing: Considering she’s already clued into Martyn controlling this, I find it very hard to believe that neither of them thought about someone walking past the keyhole at this point. Maybe I just grew up on too much horror (no such thing!), but when something like that happens, my immediate thought is that there’s something outside the door.] They turn back to the topic of water, and agree to let the others think the tank ran dry or there’s a crack, rather than the truth. Geoff won’t believe it, but Frankie and Alex might.

Present!Liz puts her pen down. She thinks she hears Mike, but it’s not him. She feels like she wants to be around someone who was in the Hole. [6]

Back in the Hole, everyone takes the news of the water with good grace, but Mike feels there’s an extra layer of tension now. The food is running out, the water moderately less so, but it’s not an inspiring scene. There is an argument about the food – Liz says that a fair share is not necessarily an equal share. Geoff seems ready to escalate, but Frankie breaks in that she’s glad someone is taking care of them. With Liz in charge, they’ll be out in “no time”. Geoff snaps that nobody gives a fuck what she thinks. Liz reassures her that things will be ok. Frankie says she knew it, and then turns around so nobody can see her cry.

Present!Liz realises that Martyn’s pranks always had the same process: before it seems funny and childish, during it’s hilarious, and afterwards, if anyone cared to look, it was actually somewhat devastating. Gibbon left during the same term as his prank. I think Liz feels guilty that she probably didn’t have this thought until she was in the Hole. She wishes that someone had pulled out of the Hole beforehand, it would have destroyed the whole scheme, but instead they kept their word, told nobody, and felt smug they were involved in Martyn’s greatest prank of all.

She has nine audio cassettes, seven of them are from Lisa. Had she and Liz spoken before the Hole, Liz never would have “allowed Martyn to use me the way he did; to use us all.” That is an odd turn of phrase to describe attempted murder. The other two tapes are kept separate and unmarked. Liz believes there should be many more, but they’ve gone. She speculates that others in the series (presumably recordings of their days in the Hole) may have convinced authorities what really happened, but Martyn, as ever, was one step ahead.

I can only assume that the tapes are from the early days, before they realised he wasn’t coming back. However, they repeatedly spoke of Martyn being the mastermind, and the author of several notorious japes at school. It would have a natural delivery, which even the supremely dim would have to concede were most likely the truth.

Chapter Nine – Day Five

At this point, by the way, I’m guessing days. If they go to sleep, I assume the next scene is the next day. It’s never stated in the text.

By lunchtime, Mike is starving, but nobody says anything until Liz suggests they’d better eat. They each get a small amount of food, dry pasta, some tinned meat and a small amount of water. Not exactly the food porn of Blyton, is it? Mike wonders who will be the first to question the portions and demand more. He vows it won’t be him.

Mike tries to be cheerful and says at least nothing else can go wrong. Geoff basically tells him to take his look-on-the-bright-side viewpoint and ram it up his arse. Liz says actually, plenty could go wrong, but thankfully nobody’s listening. Geoff says they’re not going to get out, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just too stupid to face reality. Liz puts him in his place, saying he’s not facing up, he’s lashing out and dragging people down. He’s acting like a brat. There’s a moment of near-escalation again, but it doesn’t happen. Geoff just mutters “fuck you” and stands down.

We have another tape from Lisa. She didn’t see much of Martyn at the beginning of the Easter holidays, but she went over to see him. She wanted to break up with him, but didn’t know how to have that conversation. By this point, she’s not even sure she likes him – not like romantically, just actually like.

Present!Liz switches Lisa’s tape off and is surprised that Martyn went about his life as normal. I’m not surprised and I don’t know why Present!Liz is. I thought we’d established that Martyn doesn’t really rate other beings as worthy. Present!Liz knows nothing of Martyn’s childhood, he just arrived in the sixth form. She knew his aunt and uncle owned a house a few miles away and he lived with them, but that’s it. Again, she thinks of how similar she is to him, and admits she would kill him if she could be certain of getting away with it.

Honestly, Liz, just let the damned tapes play. We get it, you’re like him, but ashamed, and honestly, you’re bringing it up so often, you sound like Sandra Ferris from Sweet Valley, who needs to be told she’s pretty every three seconds, and if she doesn’t hear it, she tells people how ugly she feels until they say the necessary words.

In the Hole, everyone’s hungry. Alex is feeling the worst. Mike remembers he’s got a packet of crisps in his bag, and plans to eat them when everyone’s asleep. Alex runs to the bathroom to throw up, and Liz, looking quite fed up of her role as everyone’s mum, goes after her.

This must surely be later than day five? I find it unlikely that an otherwise healthy seventeen year old is gacking her guts up after twenty-four hours of a lower-intake diet. However, the text implies it’s the next day. They still have food and water, so I’ll just go with it for now.

During this time, Geoff says that if that’s what the diet does to people, he’s eating now. He grabs some food and starts eating. Liz comes back from the bathroom with Alex beside her. Liz calls him a killer and tells him to pick someone.

“Pick someone, I said.” Liz moved closer still, and her fierce eyes burned up at Geoff’s. “Frankie? You don’t give a shit about her. Why not let her die? You could have twice as much then. Or Alex. Doesn’t look very well, does she? Maybe she won’t last much longer. Maybe it’s not worth wasting food on her. Mike? Didn’t you always complain that he’d eaten too much? You could pay him back now. Let him starve, rather than you. Or me. Why not? I’m smaller than you, so there’s not much I could do about it. And I don’t think you like me all that much right now, so it wouldn’t be too difficult, would it? Go on. Pick someone.” Ridiculously, she pushed him in the chest with the flat of her hand, and Geoff took a quick step backwards. “Pick someone now, or start acting like a human being.”

This sobers Geoff completely, and Mike thinks it might be the first time he’s seen real emotion on Geoff’s face. He puts the tin of food back down, apologises, and then sits down quietly.

Mike later – much, much later – realises that Liz needed something like this, a big old showdown, to head off anyone else who thought they could skip the period or get more than their share of food.

Present!Liz remembers that around that time, she began to get an idea. Then she turns her attention to being with Mike, who says they need to earn money before they go to America. Kids, how long is your summer? Back in 2001 you’re looking at £1,500 to get the pair of you to the USA, not to mention hotels, food, spending money, etc. The first time I saw a comma in my bank account working retail was my severance package added on to god knows how many weeks’ wages that got delayed because the shop closed and everything went tits up. This is not a logical dream, much less one to attain in a matter of weeks before the summer ends.

Oh, wait, they’re wealthy. So they probably just need to find spending money. Ok, you do that.

They say their I-love-yous and part company, because Mike has to buy her a birthday present.

Honestly, this dream summer bit is doing my head in, except for the brief moments when Liz forgets to be pretentious and actually gives us information.

Back in the Hole, Liz is looking after Alex, who still feels rotten. Liz tells her that things will get worse, and she’s going to have to force herself to keep food down.

It’s time for food, and Mike is given some meat and a biscuit, and he feels the strong urge to gag. Has the food turned? Unlikely in tins. Can it be later than day five?

Everyone’s glum now, so Liz says cheer up, she’s sure they’ll make it. They have food, water, and light and each other. Frankie announces she’s going to pull Martyn’s balls off when they get out. Mike says he’ll help. He glances at Liz and thinks she’s laughing at him.

Present!Liz remembers around now she had an idea, and she was going to use that idea to rip Martyn’s balls off from down in the Hole. She won’t allow herself to think of it failing, because otherwise everyone dies. She remembers feeling terrified and alone that night.

Chapter Ten – Day Five into Day Six

Mike wakes up in the night, ready to enjoy his delicious crisps, but finds nothing there. Then he remembers, he gave them to Geoff on the first night. He feels crushed and angry – the hope of crisps had got him through the day.

Liz moves over beside him and asks if they can talk in the room by the loo. He confesses that he thought he had secret food. Liz says she bets everyone else had similar thoughts. Mike says not her, surely. Liz then produces a full bottle of water, which they drink half each of. After a bit of chat, Liz brings up the winking keyhole Mike saw. Liz says she’s been thinking about it all day and thinks Martyn may have dropped by and blocked out the light. She thinks he’s listening to them – unlike the movie, it appears he really is, as evidenced by Present!Liz’s stack of tape recordings – and that she thinks he can only hear them in the main room. Of course he would listen, he’d want to know what happened, who fell to pieces, etc. Also, she’s already set up a test. She mentioned that they still had light earlier today. If he’s listening, the power will go off soon.

Present!Liz checks in for two paragraphs to say that she must listen to an audio tape, but she doesn’t want to.

Mike doesn’t sleep well, and waking up the next morning (day six) isn’t much better. Everyone looks bad, the food and water situation is getting worse.

Present!Liz is back, and she’s being smug and needy, again saying that she’s just like Martyn. Also, if it wasn’t for Martyn, she and Mike wouldn’t be together. JUST FUCK OFF, LIZ!

Around midday, the light in the Hole goes off. Naturally nobody takes this particularly well, but not as badly as you’d imagine. I would imagine screaming and panic, but mostly everyone’s just upset and tetchy.

They use the camping stove for light while they eat. Mike notices that his hunger has actually slackened, he’s able to push it back easier now. Other things he notices: the air smells awful, the loo absolutely reeks.

After lunch, with the stove off, Frankie starts to get upset, saying she never should’ve come down to the Hole, it wasn’t her idea, why did they let her do it. There’s the sound of a slap and shattering glass.

Liz has slapped her to calm her down, and Frankie smashed a bottle with her panic attack. Liz is coldly furious about it. Frankie snaps that nobody ever hits her, so Liz hits her again and says “perhaps they should.” Liz is a bit random about what gets sympathy, isn’t she? Alex pukes, let’s go support her. Frankie has a panic attack, fuck that bitch. [Wing: I wonder how much of that is Burt writing people’s reactions to panic attacks based on popular media. Because it’s such a common thing, slapping someone out of a panic attack, and it is pure shit, but I can see that being something Burt didn’t necessarily think about when writing it.]

Mike is aghast at Liz’s behaviour, and wonders if the stress is getting to her too.

Liz then snaps that they’re acting like brats, she has to keep cleaning up after them and she’s sick of it. Mike defends the group saying it’s hard knowing that Martyn won’t let them out. Liz says of course not, but when their eyes meet, he sees her wink at him.

Really? It’s either pitch black because her torch is off, or her torch is on, and I’m pretty sure that it’s human nature to look towards the light when frightened, so really, only Mike notices the wink?

Chapter Eleven – Day Six

The darkness doesn’t really improve anyone’s mental situation. Mike finds that he drifts away into a fantasy where everything works out just fine. Frankie is upset and Alex tries to comfort her, Geoff sticks with bitching about everything, and Liz stays quiet.

Mike creeps over to Liz, deciding that there must be a reason for her outburst, knowing that Martyn is listening, and he needs to know what it is so he doesn’t accidentally ruin her plan. She says follow her lead.

The other three are talking about their impending situation. Alex wonders if she ought to write a note to someone, because she’s pretty sure she’s nearly dead. Geoff is about as sympathetic as you’d think, and Frankie says her parents don’t care about her, otherwise they’d have noticed she was gone.

Liz tells them to stop acting like babies. She points out they’ve gone a few days without normal food and Alex thinks she’s dying – ok, so I’m not off, this really is day five. Liz says it’s been a real education, learning how quickly they give up.

“Martyn said it was an experiment with real life,” Geoff said. “That was bullshit.”

“How clever of you to notice,” Liz said scathingly. “But have you asked yourself why, if it was so obviously bullshit, you fell for it so completely?”

“Don’t talk to me like that,” Geoff said. “You’re here as well, remember. We all are.”

“But there’s a difference,” Liz replied coolly. “You don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Mike would have flushed that cistern of water if I hadn’t stopped him. Frankie threw a tantrum a while back and kicked over one of the water bottles. Alex thinks she’s dying and you, Geoff—you’re still trying to make yourself into something worthwhile by stamping on other people.”

The argument goes on and Geoff calls her a cunt, and says he’s going to stay alive long enough to hear her scream and fall apart. Liz cautions him about violence, because any bruising will look bad in the papers. Oh, have you been panicking? Bless you, you sweet summer children. Of course I had a backup plan, I told someone I was coming down here. Yes, my friend was told if I wasn’t out by now to come and let me out tomorrow at 11am, that way I’d have Martyn by the balls for trying to pull this shit.

Mike asks how she managed to plan ahead for this, and she says she’s quite similar to Martyn. Geoff asks how she could have let them panic all this time when she knew they were safe. She says she wanted to know what they would do. She adds that they weren’t very impressive. Liz says they might as well finish the food, since they get out tomorrow.

Geoff can’t get over the fact that she let them think they’d die down there. She laughs at him and says they were funny at times. At this point, Geoff hits her and says he doesn’t give a shit what the papers say, she played god, she’s as bad as Martyn.

Present!Liz says that having everyone think she was just like Martyn hurt obviously, but it was necessary. And while everyone slept peacefully that night, knowing they were saved, she did not, because she’d just taken a colossal gamble with their lives.

And we have another tape from Lisa. She’s waiting in Martyn’s room for him when he comes in carrying a plastic bag that looks empty to her. He seems preoccupied, and asks if she’d mind waiting. She wants to end it with him, but says she’ll wait because she wants his full attention so she can break up cleanly. She waits for over two hours, and she realises that doing as he says had become second nature to her. She notes his bedroom was always empty, no personal touches or posters, and that his study at school must have been real hard work for him to put together to appear as a normal boy.

Eventually she comes to her senses and tries to hunt him down. She finds him sitting in a room with a Walkman and some headphones. She asks what he’s been doing and he says nothing, just listening to some tapes. She says she wants to talk, and then she realises that something is off about Martyn – more than usual. She’s scared of him. He says, fine, let’s talk, and they go back to his bedroom. She gives him the standard breakup speech, and it seems like he’s not even paying attention. She tries to get his attention. He asks, “Don’t you love me?” and she says she likes him, but they need to be apart.

He grabs her and Lisa feels like if she says a word he may kill her, so she keeps quiet and he talks, she can’t really remember what he said, but it was like “listening to a nightmare talking”. He pushes her down on the floor, puts his hand over her mouth and then rapes her.

Afterwards, he says if she ever tells, he’ll kill her, and she believes him whole-heartedly. She finds it so strange because he didn’t get any pleasure from it, it was as if he was punishing her for something she hadn’t done – or didn’t know she’d done. [Wing: Rape is generally about power, not pleasure, anyway, so.]

Present!Liz feels responsible for this, because she knows that her actions put Martyn in that mindset. Jesus.

Back in the Hole, Alex and Frankie are looking forward to 11am tomorrow like it’s Christmas, complete with countdown in hours (fourteen hours to go). When Mike is sure everyone’s asleep, he creeps into the room opposite the bathroom and waits for Liz, who appears minutes later.

They rehash the earlier scene, Liz thinks Geoff was brilliant. Mike says he wanted to help, but didn’t want to spoil the ruse. Liz says he did right by doing nothing. She had to sound as much like Martyn as possible, and Geoff’s hatred was required. Mike says when they get out, they can tell everyone about Martyn. Liz says, probably not. Getting out alive will grant him some kind of immunity, and he’ll have a good excuse. This infuriates Mike (although the story shows so far that Liz wasn’t wrong), and Liz asks him to hold her. She suddenly gets the giggles and tells him she was going to invite him round for tea, but it sounded so silly in the current context. This amuses him too. Mike says he thinks he loves her, and they have sex, which is described as, “awkward, uncomfortable to begin with; but somewhere they found how to make it good, and at the end the darkness was lifted briefly.

Chapter Twelve – Day Seven

Liz and Mike fall asleep together in the small room, but get up and return to their beds before anyone wakes up. He knows Liz is worried – if this gamble doesn’t pay off, they’re going to die so much quicker. [Wing: Not necessarily a bad thing, considering they would die of dehydration and/or illness and/or beating each other to death, none of which sound like a fun time to live out longer.]

Everyone else is very chipper, Frankie wonders if they’ll be in the papers but Geoff reminds Liz he hasn’t forgotten about her playing God. Alex says how could Liz do that, they’re friends. Liz says that just because she didn’t want anyone to die, doesn’t make them friends. (This line is echoed somewhat in the movie, and I quoted it in my recap.)

Mike is amazed by the change in Geoff, Alex and Frankie. Last night they’d been preparing themselves for death, and today they’re perky and having a laugh together.

Present!Liz takes a break to go for a walk, nowhere in particular, just to put off the writing.

The story was nearly finished, but it wasn’t just that. I didn’t want to write an ending so soon.

At 9am, they hear a sound at the door. Frankie calls up to that person, and Liz warns them of a drop on the other side of the door – Mike admires her for this detail in her story.

The light pours in and they can’t see who’s opened the door. It turns out to be Lisa. Liz calls to her that she has to hurry before Martyn finds out. Lisa says that Martyn is gone, but she’ll go get a ladder.

Mike asks Liz what’s going on when Lisa leaves, and Geoff notices and asks about it, but Liz says she’ll explain later. Lisa returns with a ladder, and the kids escape into the sunshine.

Present!Liz explains that five days after the Hole, she took a walk to think things over. Martyn had vanished. Lisa had put things together by remembering what he said, and listening to the tapes, there was enough information on there to figure out where they were locked up.

That seems somewhat implausible.

She’s finally finished writing, and Mike appears. They head off to the pub, and OMG is that not the most British end to a story ever?


This is titled “some preliminary observations on ‘After the Hole’”. It’s a note from Dr Phillipa Horwood (the P.H. from the prologue) to her colleague Eliot. It’s got a formal and objective tone throughout. I think bullet points might be the best way to do this, so let’s go:

  • The “After the Hole” narrative actually exceeds the quality of work Elizabeth’s school reports implied.
  • Since the Hole (six years ago), Elizabeth withdrew from the world, and many speculated this silent state may be permanent. Instead, she’s written this story in four months.
  • Elizabeth uses third person inside the Hole to distance herself from the story. She uses the “dream summer” as a counterweight to the darkness of her story.
  • Elizabeth’s narrative set inside the Hole seems to line up with the chain of events noted in Dr Eliot Lawrence’s paper “The Structure and Effects of Social Deprivation: recent case histories” up to chapter eight. (There are minor continuity errors, such as sunshine flooding in the door, when it was earlier described as being at the end of a dark passage, etc.)
  • After chapter eight, she starts to manipulate things so that everyone survives. In the story she is in a relationship with Mike Rollins. It is generally accepted that Michael Rollins died on the sixteenth day.
  • Lisa’s contributions to the story in the form of tapes allow Elizabeth to use a stream-of-consciousness. She never reworks the Lisa passages, but frequently reworks the others. She makes the most spelling mistakes in these passages – and she habitually adds an “s” to words indiscriminately. [It’s so weird, but I do this when I’m typing.] It is very likely that Elizabeth and Lisa are the same person, especially because she refers to herself as Liz throughout the story. There is no evidence Lisa ever existed.
  • If you believe that Lisa is Elizabeth, then it becomes apparent that she knew Martyn, and possibly dated him, before the Hole. She does not want to link that to herself, so split her character for the narrative.
  • Elizabeth describes herself as strong, independent, etc, and this is the case in her school reports too. Also, P.H. notes that she describes herself “rather whimsically” as being of slight build. This makes sense, in a starvation environment, I would guess a heavy person would have an advantage over someone with zero body fat.
  • The fact that the Liz/Mike lovemaking scene and the rape of Lisa are side-by-side in the chapter implies that if Elizabeth was sexually active in the Hole, there is a good chance it wasn’t consensual, and she’s found it easier to split it into two events, one romantic, one… not.
  • Whether Martyn actually exists has been called into question, but there is evidence he did exist, but not in the way Elizabeth describes. The real Martyn was completely hidden, not the centre of attention, but the “Gibbon incident” mentioned and his subsequent leaving does marry up with Major Gibson leaving the school. Elizabeth describing Martyn this way is deliberate.
  • P.H. thinks knowing who the real Martyn is would absolve Elizabeth of her guilt, but clearly Elizabeth thinks not.

It finally ends with a slightly more chatty note from P.H. to Eliot, saying she thinks this is a real sign that they can one day, after a lot of hard work, give Elizabeth her life back.


[1] It’s hard to know if that’s a deliberate choice on the author’s part – that Liz the character is working really hard at saying something, while telling absolutely nothing because she’s still not getting too close to the Hole; or whether it’s just Burt’s inexperience. I think it’s probably the former actually. Liz uses much more straightforward language when she wants to say something, and then gets all prosey when she’s done. [back]

[2] I’ve always considered Liz’s grumble about a man who metaphorically killed himself to be about Martyn, but she specifically mentions he has a new family, and if Martyn does exist, he doesn’t really strike me as someone who would want or need a new family. On this read-through, I wonder if she’s speaking about her dad. Her mother is briefly mentioned but not her father, and Liz proves herself time and time again to be very self-reliant. The text heavily implies that she’s basically running the household, which would not be the case if her dad was around. [Wing: The father is how I’ve always read it. The metaphorical death by disappearing versus the actual death at least leaving a body is interesting, but also reminds me of that thing where some people say rape is worse than murder because rape survivors have to live with what happened.back]

[3] Nothing really exciting in there, except I wonder if it’s a reference to counselling. Her “writing” periods are the sessions where they try to get answers from her about what happened, and try to help her get past it, and she prefers lunch or downtime, when people aren’t pushing her to think of the Hole so much. She later describes her house as follows:

I often wonder why we still live in this huge old house, stuck back in the trees away from the village. The river cuts through the woods about a quarter of a mile out. The river is something I like very much; I was there again yesterday, walking around to the stand of chestnuts. But the house puzzles me, I suppose. The first floor and the attic are places that only I see, of course; and they have become like I am, in the fashion that places take after their occupants.

(emphasis mine)

And this makes me wonder about the wording I’ve highlighted. I feel like it’s a veiled reference to the hospital she’s in, and her limited ability to roam freely. [Wing: Reading between the lines such that they are the only places she can see but she frames it as places only she can see?] [Dove: Oooh, you’re right. I’d never read that inflection before, but you’re absolutely right.] I suspect she can see the river from a recreation area, and that’s why they feature so heavily in her “dream summer” part of the narrative. [back]

[4] Is Mike’s panic about being ill a hint of what actually happened to him? [back]

[5] Her need to apologise/make it right with Lisa is a very confusing thing. Once you’ve read the epilogue, and you realise that Lisa isn’t real, Martyn may not be real, the Hole was real, but only half of what you read was actually what happened down there, it makes you wonder why Liz feels so terrible about Lisa? Does she just want to reconcile her current self with her pre-Hole idealistic self, one that may or may not have had some kind of relationship with Martyn, a monster? If she can’t forgive herself for her Martyn-like behaviour, why does she want to make things right with “Lisa”? Or is she just in character, writing a narrative as prosey, wordy dream summer Liz? [Wing: I generally settle on the idea that if we accept the theory that Lisa is a part of her, her need to make it right with Lisa is because the Lisa part of her was sacrificed to the Martyn part of her in order for Liz to survive.] [back]

[6] I feel like this is the most genuine thing Present!Liz has written. It’s only a few sentences, but she’s alone, she needs someone who lived through her trauma, and there’s nobody, so instead she stares out of the window, feeling alone. She barely even described where she was, so it could well have been the psychiatric hospital she’s in. As I’ve said before, I believe she can see a river from the hospital, and that’s why it features in her daydreams. [back]

Final Thoughts/Theories:

The first time I read this, I was a bit on the fence about it. I kept reading and reading, and while things were escalating, it wasn’t getting as death-heavy as the movie. And I was under the impression that people died – Mike calls Martyn a murderer early on, but Liz later corrects him, since everybody lived.

As we to the final chapter, it looked like everyone was going to live, there weren’t many pages left, and it’s a bit odd that an adaptation would up the body count, isn’t it? God, this is actually just pants. It’s just a weaksauce everybody lives book.

And then the epilogue. After I was done reading the epilogue, I read it again. And then a third time. Then I had to go back to work, because I was on lunch. But I read it again on the bus home (it’s a really short journey). When I got home, I started reading the book again to analyse the truth.

And where I’m at now? I honestly don’t know what went on down there.

My feeling is:

  • Liz was in on it from the start. The narrative endlessly mentions that she’s either writing in or reading her notebooks when she’s not talking to Mike. It feels like she’s reporting on what’s going on for Martyn. Also, in chapter 8 she states that she never would have “allowed Martyn to use me”, if she had spoken to Lisa beforehand. It doesn’t really make sense if you pick it apart (Lisa and Liz are the same person), and it doesn’t really make sense if you take it at face value either (Liz clearly views Martyn as a potential murderer, he wasn’t using them, he was killing them). The only way it makes sense to me (feel free to give me another theory) is if she was supposed to be in the Hole, taking notes. [Wing: This is the interpretation I like best (for the book, the one I like best for the movie is that Liz is manipulating everything, including Martyn).]
  • With that being said, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that Liz’s plan was to kill them either, because why would she go in? I would theorise that he misled her, saying “I’ll say I’m locking you in for three days, but actually I’ll be back in five, you keep them from doing anything silly, and let me know what goes down” or something similar. This proposition intrigues Liz. She is team mom, but she doesn’t really seem to like the rest particularly – except for Mike. [Wing: I do think it makes more sense for her to be driven by curiosity, etc., in a limited capacity than for her to be willing to kill them, if only because allowing it to stretch on too long puts her in real danger of them turning on her (even without knowing that she’s involved). Even at her most confident, the longer she’s there, the more likely she is that there will be some sort of accident that hurts her, including disease from being around shit and dead people.] [Dove: Also, the in-book happy ending ties in with this thoery. If only she’d told someone about the second part of the plan, it would have gone down exactly like the book.]
  • Her guilt about being so similar to him? It’s not because she thought like him to get out, it’s because she acted like him before she even went in, and, just like Martyn, she never saw the flaw in her plan. To point to Martyn would be to get into a he did it/she did it fight.
  • Alex’s sickness is what killed her, that stands to reason. As for the others, I feel that Geoff could have killed someone, even if he didn’t mean to, and this would be most likely Frankie. Mike worries about getting ill before he realises it’s a hangover, but perhaps this is a reference to his death. If we assume the water does run out, then sickness all round seems likely, especially with them not eating.
  • The movie praises Liz for spending days picking the lock and I sneered at movie!Liz’s ability to pick a lock. I do not sneer at book!Liz. That girl gets things done. Though given the massive drop by the door, possibly that’s not how she got out. I stand by my assessment that if anyone in the book or movie-verse could have done it, it would be her. [Wing: This is the part I keep hanging on, because how did she get out of there? Did Martyn let her out? If so, why? That doesn’t make much sense whether or not she was in on it, unless he’s using this as a further manipulation of her; if she’s also the Lisa character, perhaps the relationship is a test to see how deeply he could drag her under his control. Was she in on it and had a rope ladder in her bag that she was somehow going to throw up and catch it on some sort of hook or something so she could climb up? But if she was in on it, why would she have that because she was trusting Martyn? The escaping part, with the drop-off, is one thing that annoys the hell out of me in the book. I think the movie handled that part a lot better, though I am far more likely to believe book!Liz survived.]

As for everything else that happened, I have no idea. I hope you guys do.