Tuesday, 16 November 2010

"Handling the Undead" by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Year of Publication: 2005
Number of Pages: 364 pages
Genre: Horror, supernatural, zombie

Summary: Stockholm, August 2002: The city swelters under a severe heatwave, everyone in the city suffers from a splitting headache and no electrical device can be turned off once it is switched on. Then the city's dead return to life.
David is a stand-up comedian who is happily married to children's book author Eva, and the couple have a ten year old son, Magnus. The night that the dead come back, Eva's car hits an elk and she is killed. When David goes to identify her body, he notices it start moving.
Gustav Mahler is a freelance journalist who is still grieving for the death of his grandson, Elias, a month previously. Mahler's daughter, Anna, the dead boy's mother, is so grief-stricken she barely ever leaves her home, and he cares for her despite their mutual resentment. When he learns of the resurrection, Mahler has a glimmer of hope that the family can be reunited.
Rebellious teenage goth Flora shares a deep psychic bond with her devoutly religious mother, Elvy. When they are visited by Elvy's recently deceased husband, the two have very different ideas as to what the events mean.
Meanwhile scientists, city officials, newspaper pundits and the Government try to discover what is happening in Stockholm, and what can be done about it.

Opinions: From the title you could be forgiven for thinking that this is 364 pages of gore-drenched, flesh chomping zombie action when, in fact, John Lindqvist's follow up to the best-selling Let the Right One In is a dark and moving meditation on grief, love, loss and hate. That's not to say that there isn't plenty of gruesome horror, but mostly it's about the reactions of people to the return of their loved ones. The book moves between four storylines, and the frequent cross-cutting means the book never really gets dull. Unlike most zombie stories, the living dead in this novel are not essentially aggressive, although they do have limited mind-reading abilities and react to "negative" emotions such as hate, fear and anger, while any living human who is around them for too long also develops mind-reading abilities. The book takes it's time getting going, and the frankly bizarre climax is a bit abrupt and unsatisfactory. However, for the most part, this is a strong, well-written book. Lindqvist has an eye for the details of everyday life and, as with Let the Right One In, this book benefits enormously from his ability to ground the supernatural elements in a recognisable urban reality. Lindqvist also has a good feel for character and makes the book at times a genuinely moving experience, which is as much about intolerance and family relationships as it is about shambling zombies. Also, while not being particularly scary, the book does have enough action and suspense to satisfy genre fans.

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