CONTAINS SPOILERS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
HANDLING THE UNDEAD BY
JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST
Some of the reviews of this book has been, somewhat, vitriolic. This is not your traditional horror story or zombie fest that as gained so much popularity. The approach is not the over the top viscera, and shoot the dead up scenario, he is concerned here with the characters reactions to their relatives coming back from the dead, and the sociological implications, that the living dead might have on society.
It starts with the beginning of a storm and heat wave in Stockholm, and everyone in the area of Stockholm has a headache – more like migraine – with an ominous feeling that something is about to happen. All electrical appliances are switched on and will not turn off. Then at its zenith almost more or less unobserved there are a shower of what appears to be maggots or white worms, that quickly disappear in the ground or wherever there are newly dead. Then the dead of the last three months start waking. These dead aren’t hungry for human flesh or violent (anymore than the living are to them) they are pretty much fucked-up. They behave like the recent lobotomized. They are not a pretty picture; those that die come back with their old wounds, rot and decay as some of them were buried with, or fresh from the mortuary. What perhaps is worse is that living can hear the thoughts of other living near the undead. That makes working with them difficult.
The main characters are David his son Magnus Zetterburg and his wife Eva who has an accident that leaves her in a bloody mess and undead. The reporter Mahler, his daughter Anna and their buried son Elia. And Flora and her grandmother Ely whose grandfather comes back from the funeral home.
This isn’t straight horror, the drama basis of the horrific situation, is envisioned here. The reaction of the relatives and the despair, horror and when they do come back. The supernatural elements are more backdrops and a hazy explanation than the whole part of the plot. The question Lindqvist poses is the uncomfortable what would you do if a loved one came back? They wouldn’t be the same they would be a tortured version of
what they once were. And some of the dead would you want to come back?
The government naturally makes most of the wrong decision when dealing with this crisis. The larger question is that the undead seem a localized event what would happen if it went global? What would civilization do in that event? There are some very interesting questions here not really tackled by Sci-fi or Horror or indeed mainstream and not in this book, but there are hints of it. The questions has been tackled in the recent season of ‘Torchwood’ but with the world’s population staggering into billions and crisis for consumption of food, energy and property reaching epidemic proportions the answer may not be very pleasant, especially looking at our early history and the Nazi ‘Final Solution’.
These questions are not the important part here, only the impact it has on the family. The two prime characters here are David, whose wife Eva who comes back in glorious horror style, after being pronounced dead she sits up and stares and David with one eye, the other destroyed in the car-crash. Eva is special is that she one of the most recent fatalities to come back and still vaguely human. David worries how he’s going to tell his son and how he can cope with the loss and reanimation of his wife.
Mahler a reporter whose daughter Anna is still grieving for the loss of their son literally unburied Elias. Anna reaction when she sees Elias, is that though she feels responsibility to what has come back, it isn’t her son that is now here.
Flora and her grandmother Ely reaction is stunned but Flora’s atheism isn’t tested as much as Ely’s Christianity, the dead rising to her seems to be an indication that one of the prophesies of Revelation has taken place. Their reaction to Ely’s husband is first horror and then confusion, as he goes to his room and carries out tasks that he did when living, even if the actions are pointless. The most interesting element of the plot is that Ely sees a vision of a woman dressed in black – Ely takes this to be the Virgin Mary – that demands that she brings the dead to her. To these ends is she starts a small cult of believers in the end days.
I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed ‘Let The Right One In’. I believe that Lindqvist as currently released another novel ‘Harbor’ which I am looking forward to reading when I can get my hands on a copy. This book unlike ‘Let The Right One in’ is not for every horror reader. It is a fantasy treaty on grieve and misunderstanding – the elements of supernatural that have to be there are vague, and to some degree unimportant. If you like your horror with some depth and thought then I highly suggest this one for you. Whoever is reading this review?