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I have to eat my words; I've just read and thoroughly enjoyed a zombie-style book. Readers of my book reviews will know that I often refer to the modern trend for vampire chick-lit and brain-eating zombies as letting down the horror genre I love so much, so why have I appeared to stoop to this level? Well, its easy, the author is new to me and new to the genre, this counting as his debut novel, though dig a bit deeper and you'll find this is a pseudonym he's writing under. Also, this is actually a well plotted and beautifully written story with the sense of style more suited to some of the better-known great American writers.
I tend to ignore a lot of the hype around a book and I picked this up because the cover caught my eye. A girl crouching in what looks like a ruined city, alone with a bleakness that suggests a haunting story. It not only caught my eye, the write-up plainly stated this was about a young girl alone in a post-apocalyptic world where the dead roam endlessly and the remnants of humanity are almost as bad as the undead.
For some reason I was hooked from the moment I picked it up and among the latest six books I had to read I kept this almost to the last, wanting to come to it in a suitable state of mind.
'God is a slick god, Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.' So speaks the heroine of the book, Temple, a young girl of uncertain age in a world of ruin, which she was born into, knowing no other way of life. The first chapter introduces the girl alone on a small island cut off from the mainland and the mindless zombies (called Slugs) that move about aimlessly, only bothering to stir when a normal human is around. Of the remnants of humanity we will eventually find out, but that's part and parcel of Temple's story and like the girl isn't about to be rushed.
As a plot the book says little and I preferred it that way. I didn't really want to know if it was disease or war that brought about man's fall from grace. I accepted the Slugs as portrayed without the usual madness that accompanies zombies going about in search of brains to eat. These Slugs are what the word evokes, a race of altered humans who once dead now live on without purpose, but will bite and eat any human in their path.
When a Slug body washes up on the island shore, Temple knows she must move on and packing light she swims the mile or so to land and sets about finding transport to move along. When she comes across a helpless man, Maury, whom she discovers as not very bright (The Dummy in her words), he becomes a reason for Temple to act, hoping to ease some of her conscience by finding his family.
A Sense of Hopelessness.
With so little plot the book relies heavily on the characters and the atmosphere for a story. I wouldn't have expected it to work that way, but somehow the very lack of motive and movement in the narrative worked well with the bleakness of the situation and the empty lands where few normal people live. There are some pockets of humanity still trying to eke out a living, but there is none of the usual bands that try to make a new society by pushing around the survivors. Neither is there any new towns or anything like a new start so beloved of other writers. If that sounds rather hopeless and soul-destroying then that is what the author has achieved. There are also some other well-written characters in the book but any mention would act as spoilers, such is the narrative.
Rather than tell us how the world got to this point, the author says, 'look, this is probably how it would really be' and I have to say that knowing mankind it would probably start out that way once the initial pushing around died down. If there is one thing I've learned from history is that old civilizations take a long time, if ever, to recover from a complete collapse. So how would we go about our lives when they could end the next day?
Into this bleakness of landscape and story Temple stands out as a young woman with a strong sense of survival and a healthy respect for mankind's worst side as well as believing in the goodness of a 'God' who makes beautiful colored skies and wonders in the shape of things unseen, yet which she believes in. I loved the character she is and becomes as she meets new people. I think the author has penned a superb side of humanity with Temple as a girl knowing not to trust blindly, expecting to be hunted by Slugs and humans alike. Yet she can trust when it's shown to her and although she fears rape she isn't above a dalliance when it suits her.
Holding Out For A Hero.
We expect a hero in such a book or even a heroine will do, but what if there isn't one? A book is supposed to entertain us, move us, and make us think. It doesn't have to have a starting and finishing point to do that and I liked the way the book moved laterally. When the reader accepts that then the book becomes very intimate, which is how many reviewers see it. It's as if Temple is including us in her story and reminded me at times of the boy in 'Room' who spent most of his early years with just his mother in a 10-foot room.
The author gives her a Southern-style way of talking that allows for some leeway with her up bringing. I'm not going to spoil any of the stories that are there, but Temple has little memory of parents and it's possible she was born into a small settlement. In her wonderment with the world she betrays a child-like character at odds with the killer she has been in the past. Whether she can redeem herself, or even if she does need to, is perhaps the only part of the book with a purpose beyond a compelling story.
If this sounds a little strange that's probably because it's a strange book and one that sets you thinking. If you want plenty of blood and gore then there is some, but it's not for the sake of shocking the reader. It's unlike any horror story I've come across before and I must admit to finding that unsettling. After all, I've said a lot about violence for selling books. But I can't stop thinking about the character and wondering could the book have gone a different way?
I can't say why it has such a powerful effect on me, but it does. At 294 pages it's a comfortable length to read in one go and I guarantee you will want to read it in one go. This is one book that's going to break through genres and I love it.
My book is a library copy but one I'll probably buy when it's cheaper. Since it's new to paperback it's still fairly expensive new at £5.00 and Kindle version at 4.75.
Thanks for reading.
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