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Handling The Undead is J.A.Lindqvist's bestselling follow-up to his cult hit, Let The Right One In and does for the zombie novel what his previous book did for vampires; i.e bring them right up into the twenty-first century with a very modern update!
During an intense heatwave in Stockholm which brings much pressure not just to the atmosphere but also its residents, there is a weird electrical surge that first prevents any electric device from being turned off before suddenly shutting everything down! Strange white grubs are spotted by a few people throughout the city falling from the sky and then something strange happens...the recent dead begin to rise!
But these are not your traditional zombies that seek to feast on human flesh but more shadows of their previous selves that seem confused, almost autistic in their manner. The longer they have been dead, the oldest is no more than two months dead, the worse their cognitive ability seems to be. With the same thing going on all through Stockholm, officials are forced to react and create protocols for an incident that is totally unprecedented......just how exactly DO you handle the undead..~?
This second novel from an author described as Sweden's Stephen King is okay but no match for his first novel. Some have suggested that the Undead of the title are a metaphor and the whole book is a critical look at Sweden's Care system but that exists beyond my knowledge or experience and I found the whole thing to be a little bit patchy!
I really wanted to enjoy this, being a big fan of Let The Right One In, but found it unsatisfying and inconclusive. Too many plot holes are never adequately explained and though it is quite disturbing in many parts, not with blood and gore nessecarily but with psychological disturbance, this is not enough to totally appease this disgruntled reviewer. There are many good bits in this novel and some interesting ideas explored but ultimately the sum of its parts are not equal to the whole!
If you enjoyed his previous novel, there is probably little I can say to dissuade you from picking this up ~ just be prepared to be a little disappointed! I would recommend getting this out of the library or borrowing a copy from a friend but it really isn't worth purchasing and I think if you go into this expecting the same kind of inspired approach of Let The Right One In then you are going to feel really let down!
It is okay but never really goes anywhere and not what I expected from his last novel! Certainly I will not be reading it again and begrudge the £1.50 I spent on it!
I had heard of 'Let the Right one in', Lindqvist's previous novel, and had vaguely thought that I'd quite like to read it. I was interested in the way it played with the old story of vampires. Similarly, when I heard the premise of this book, I was pleasantly intrigued: this is a zombie book that isn't really about the zombies. It's cleverer than that.
-- The undead arise --
In the middle of a terribly oppressive heatwave in Stockholm, odd things are happening. Everyone has a horrific headache and their electrical items are surging with energy, apparently unable to power down. Then something even stranger happens: the dead begin to wake...
I found this premise intriguing and was willing to suspend disbelief to follow the arc of the story. Although I would never read or watch a 'straight' zombie story (far too gory and dull) I have enjoyed films and books which play with the concept of the undead so I was fairly confident that this would suit me. However, if you're someone who isn't willing to suspend belief or if the undead is a concept that you are deeply uninterested in then this obviously wouldn't be the right book for you as the reanimation of the corpses is the foundation of the rest of the story.
This isn't a horror story in the conventional sense, although there are certainly moments of horror and there are some concise descriptions of the physical condition of the dead which provoked a grimace from me. Lindqvist's dead are not flesh eating monsters. Instead, they simply want to go home and be with their families. The reaction of their families, and society as a whole, forms the core of the plot as Lindqvist explores the devastation of loss, the difficulty in moving on and the way society handles outsiders.
-- The reliving awake --
The plot follows several characters, although the blurb only mentions one. David, a particularly highly-strung individual, (he's a comic, of course,) is sobbing dejectedly at the bedside of his very recently deceased wife when, to his shock and confusion, she awakens. Of course, the dead have their limits and David struggles to communicate with her while worrying about what he will tell their young son. As this episode makes clear, the emphasis in the novel is on realistic reactions of people to the surreal circumstances. I hesitate to use the verb 'enjoyed' in relation to this text as the various plotlines are intensely sad and the tone of the novel often elegiac, but I certainly appreciated the approach Lindqvist adopts. In essence, this is a story of loss and denial rather than a 'horror' story. The horror is found in our human frailties and the inevitability of our death.
All the main characters have some kind of interaction with the undead and the three storylines coexist in a logical fashion. Sometimes the characters from each interact and this helps to give the book coherence. It does feel like a story rather than a collection of stories. The characters are convincingly drawn and are generally sympathetic. Their relationships are also convincingly nuanced and allow Lindqvist to explore several perspectives on the events. Amusingly, although I was perfectly willing to have the dead rise out of their graves, I didn't really like the fact that two of the characters were psychic and experienced various psychic phenomena. I suppose it felt like the dead arising was so obviously a sci-fi moment, whereas people claim to be psychic in the 'real world', so it felt more like an endorsement of something I am extremely sceptical of. Regardless of my reasons, I liked this perspective less than the others and did not follow this storyline as avidly as the other two. I think having the three separate storylines increased the chances of engaging readers as there are a range of characters to empathise with.
One of the elements of the book I found most appealing was the focus on society's reactions. Lindqvist occasionally includes a few small snippets from contemporary newspapers or from government reports. These were so convincing in terms of the attitudes conveyed that they made me smile. I'm sure that if the dead were to awaken, Lindqvist has captured exactly how people would respond. To give one example, some writers and columnists use the government's handling of the affair to call for resignations in the cabinet. I thought that this realism was a real strength of the book. Some reviewers have complained that this is too much tell and not enough show, but I liked the concise way the snippets expressed information and created a sense of a broader reaction than just the individuals followed by the storyline.
-- The fantastical --
I actually dislike fantasy stories and, as such, there were several elements of the story that I was less comfortable with. While I was happy to suspend disbelief regarding the awakening of the dead, I was less comfortable about the psychic angle and the increasing personification of Death as the novel drew on. By the end of the novel I was almost outright ignoring small sections that I just felt were too fantastical. I think that if you are not a fan of fantasy, the novel becomes more difficult as it moves towards its conclusion. That said, the metaphorical aspect of these elements is so evident that you could probably almost ignore the fantastical aspect and treat it as a metaphor.
Indeed, the whole work is really metaphorical. The zombies could be victims of autism or alzheimers (something some reviewers have criticised Lindqvist for making too obvious). Society's treatment of them clearly represents real people's attitude towards difference, outsiders and the most vulnerable. I think this evidently metaphorical element made it much more interesting for me to read and encouraged me to reflect on human nature. In fact, this layer of meaning is so important to Lindqvist that he skimps a little on the fantasy layer: there is no full explanation for the awakening of the dead or the way they function. I thought this was a shame but that it did not detract from my enjoyment. I think that, contrary to some comments elsewhere, readers don't really expect a zombie story to fully explain the science. The science isn't the focus of the story. However, if you do like all yours i's dotted and t's crossed then this isn't the novel for you.
-- "He was the only one who saw it." --
The novel opens with a short prologue that is deeply atmospheric and helps to create a distinct 'sci-fi' feel. In a scene that reminded me of 'The Faculty' (a weak alien takeover film) a white caterpillar acts in an unusual way. This is a big tease because Lindqvist does not return to the caterpillar until much later in the novel. When he does, I do not feel that the prologue is satisfactorily explained, which was mildly irksome - it seemed like the writer had changed his mind halfway through writing the book. However, this was a very minor criticism and few books would stand up to thorough scrutiny without revealing a plot hole or two. At least the prologue linked to the ending, giving a sense of completion to the story.
A more serious complaint could be made about the middle of the book. Several reviewers have compared Lindqvist to Stephen King (indeed, this link appears on the back cover of the book, so the publishers evidently think this is a Good Thing) and argued that the book is a little bloated. I didn't really feel that when I was reading it, but I did feel that the middle section dragged a little. All the characters are just...getting on with life. Realistic, yes. Compelling, no. I kept reading because I was genuinely interested in the character's storylines, but perhaps some material could have been reduced here.
The ending was rather strange and a lot happened quite quickly. There are few definite answers but the events felt like logical progressions and there was enough information given to predict what wasn't seen. I wouldn't have minded a little more clarity because it all felt rather fantastical, but I wasn't frustrated by the ending. I would have liked a bit more detail about what happened after and thought this could have been provided in the same style as earlier in the book (reports and articles). According to Wikipedia, there is an epilogue but it has yet to be translated, which seems rather odd.
-- "Solidarity is always directed at 'one of us' and 'us' cannot refer to everyone..." --
Although there are some minor flaws in the crafting of the story - perhaps it is a little bloated and a little too metaphysical in places - I felt that the story itself was absorbing, the characters convincing and the issues compelling. I think this edition must be very well translated as it is easy to read and often atmospheric, especially in the early descriptions of the electrical storm. This isn't a book for the flesh eating zombies fan but a more serious meditation of love, loss and fear. Although not, as stated earlier, a conventional 'horror' story, the novel does create moments of intense horror at various points and, of course, deals throughout with the horror of experiencing a form of living death. I would recommend this and will look to read 'Let the Right one in' in due course.
Having read Let The Right One In and having watched the film, I picked this book up at the library hoping for a story as rich and descriptive as the first.
I was not disappointed.
The main premise of the story (set in Sweden as the first one is) is the re-animation of dead people. The story begins with extreme weather and pressure conditions (described in the book as like a thunderstorm waiting to break but not occuring) and the strange phenomenon of all electrical appliances not being able to be switched off. When it is attempted or when plug are removed there is a sparking from the plug to the wall socket, as if to keep the connection between the power and the appliance.
It is after this break that the dead start living again, or to use the term in the book, "reliving". There are 3 different sets of people involved in this; one, a granddaughter and her grandmother who both have a sixth Sense, a man whose wife dies when she hits an elk on the road, and a man whose grandson died over a month previously.
The book is spooky, in that the 'reliving' not only affect themselves but also the living, bringing about a telepathic link between them and the living.
Ajvide Lindqvist also includes fake reports from Swedish papers, and scripts from TV programmes, all attempting to explain the phenomenon. To find out anymore, you will have to read the book....
The book is well written and rich in detail and description, not only of the living but the 'reliving', including their attempts to escape the near concentration camps they are kept in, including fights breaking out. The book has an ethereal feel, lent to it by the fear of the living and the unknown that has consumed the 'reliving'.
This is a book that has gripped me from the first page to the last, and it does not disappoint throughout
I hadn't read Let The Right One In but raved about the film and shortly after received this as a gift so as a result I can't say whether I am a fan of John Ajvide Linqvist's writing.
The story is set in Stockholm and asks the question - what would happen if the dead woke up? Rather than being a fantastical story it attempts to take place in the "real" world, so we have government being criticised for their handling of the undead, and the beaurocratic process involved in what to call them.
There are 3 threads to the story - a stand up comedian and his son trying to come to terms with their wife/mother returning, a telepathic grandmother/granddaughter dealing with religious visions and a journalist who goes on the run with his daughter and her recently undead son.
It has an intriguing premise and well rounded characters, but the language at times can be slightly basic - however I don't know whether this is just due to the translation from Lindqvist's original Swedish text. I was thoroughly enjoying this book, looking forward to the conclusion it was building up to....And then it finished. 2 of the story threads are fairly well concluded (though far too quickly for my liking) but one of them just stops, as if the author isn't sure where to go with it. This meant I was left fairly dissatsified with the whole novel as I'd invested time in hard going subject matter to have what felt like a half thoughtout ending.
Handling the Undead is the eagerly awaited (well by me anyway) second novel from Swedish horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, which was originally published in Sweden in 2005 but only translated into English earlier this year.
Set in Stockholm, the story starts with a heat wave, followed by a strange phenomenon - lights and televisions remain on even when unplugged, and an unseen pressure builds up in the city, leaving everyone with the same horrendous headache. Suddenly everything seemingly returns to normality, but the inhabitants of the city soon realise that nothing will ever be 'normal' again.
The city morgue is the first place where the dead begin to rise...
Lindqvist skilfully weaves in and out of the stories of David, a stand up comedian, Mahler, a journalist, and Elvy and her granddaughter Flora - all of whom have recently lost someone and understandably were never expecting to see their loved ones again.
Like his first novel 'Let the right one in', Lindquist has taken a theme from the horror genre (this time zombies), given it a new twist, and provided the reader with an emotional attachment to the characters both alive and dead.
I suppose it's not really right to call it a horror novel more a journey through the human psyche, whilst throwing in some shocking moments along the way. One example of this occurs when Mahler has to deal with the loss and subsequent reappearance of his beloved young grandson, whom he decides to dig-up from his grave and care for as if nothing has changed.
Lindqvist's novel doesn't just tell the story of society's reaction to this strange occurrence, but also gives insight in the everyday practicalities of dealing with 'The Reliving'. The book features debates about what rights the undead should have, where they should live, and how they should be referred to - all these theoretical arguments help the reader imagine the difficulties that society would face if the unlikely situation ever arose. These kind of issues are rarely addressed in the zombie genre, as most other stories focus mainly on people running away screaming from the groaning flesh eaters.
The Reliving are not your usual stereotypical zombies, they have rudimentary intelligence, whilst retaining a glimpse of the person they once were, making it even harder for their friends and relatives.
Other people who have read Handling the Undead often say they were disappointed with the story and complained that their interest wained half way through. Personally, I have to disagree, and feel the narrative moved at a good pace with slow building tension that had me gripped right from the beginning through to its emotional conclusion. Overall I'd say Handling the Undead is beautifully written story that will stay with you long after you've finished reading it.
You can currently purchase the book in trade paperback format for £7.40 from amazon.co.uk, although there is a standard paperback version soon to be released for £5.99.
*I've also published this review under my own name on waterstones.com*