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I have to confess, I first heard of "Warm Bodies" when the film was released and was quick to deride the entire concept. An undead Romeo and Juliette - disgusting and not the just undead part. I always liked monsters that were proper monsters - Romero's zombies, or Matheson's vampires ( later to become zombies) in I am Legend. Romantic monsters just ruins the whole thing as far as I am concerned. In all honesty I would never, ever have parted with a single pence of my own money to read this. The only reason I gave the author a chance is that I was reaching a point where I was desperate to read about something other than fossils, rocks and dinosaurs I could have read a toothpaste carton, and The Bookbag had the prequel to this book offered free for review. After reading the prequel, I was pretty well hooked although still dubious about the romance part.
I've read a number of reviews on this book, and I have been intrigued by how much people like 'Warm Bodies' without really giving away what I consider to be the best part of the book. I'm afraid I am going to do the same, and my thanks go out to all the reviewers before me who kept their reviews vague enough for me to discover the magic of this book for myself. I've never been so tempted to give a tiny spoiler in my life, but I will resist the urge. I will say there is far more to this book than meets the eye. This is book which inspires deep thought and will leave questioning what is to be a human, or a monster, it will cause you to question prejudices and wonder at the redeeming power of love.
Warm Bodies is told in an alternating first person point of view, switching back and forth between "R" a zombie who has retained a bit more of the power of thought than most, and Julie, a feisty and courageous heroine, who has been through horrible hardships, but retained an ability to truly care about others. In short, R has far more humanity than the average zombie, but Julie also held on to more of the traits that feel truly make us human in a world where kindness and unselfish love have become even more endangered than the human race itself. Two other characters are important to this storyline, "M", R's best friend and Nora, Julie's closest friend and confidant. I especially liked Nora, who has suffered far more than Julie, and yet still is willing to put aside past hurt, but M has his redeeming points as well.
R starts off as the villain of the piece. He isn't really in need of nourishment, but he is frustrated, confused and longing for something o fill the emptiness in his life, so he decides to go out and kill, rounding up several other zombies for an attack on the humans. It turns out humans provide zombies with more than the only food source their dead bodies can utilise, their brains hold their memories and give the zombie a brief vicarious experience of the one thing they want most of all - life. R consumes the brain of Perry Kelvin, a young man very much in love with Julie who now will no coexist to some degree with R. He now experiences a drive far greater than he has ever known as a zombie - not to kill or feed but to save. How much of this comes from R and how much from Perry we will never known, but he does save her, and Julie allows him to this. After this she takes a very takes an active role, accepting R as he is, naming him, and seeing him as something more than a monster.
I absolutely loved this book, especially the ending. My children loved it as well, despite being quite young. The characters are so well developed, you really do feel for each one. The book does leave guessing right up until the end as to the cause of the plague, but when this is finally revealed, it certainly has implications on life today. They say zombie stories take off in times of economic or social insecurity, and I think this true. I can certainly see something in common between the worst type of zombie in this book - ''the boneys'' - and some of our current politicians, but also in some of the human leaders, resorting to scaremongering and even worse if needed to preserve the status quo, and lets face it, hordes of undead at your doorstep isn't a status quo most of us would want to maintain. "Warm Bodies" leaves you wondering - what exactly do we do to make the world a better place, and what would we risk to do it. If we do nothing - are really any better than either the selfish humans or the monsters? This book had even my children questioning right and wrong - and realising that sometimes the answers are not black and white but shades of grey - just like the flesh of the undead.
Warm bodies is essentially a zombie version of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet,' made humorous and with a happy ending. It's set in post zombie-apocalyptic America where zombies and humans live either side of a giant wall. It starts with the birth of thought within the zombie protagonist 'R' where humorous yet conscious thoughts begin the narrative of this story. We then get an insight into the different lifestyles of zombies and humans, to which we then meet 'Julie.' The daughter of the self-proclaimed general/leader of the human survivors/settlers/refugees. She has friends, a boyfriend and daddy- issues. The grand meeting of Julie and R occurs when Julie and the humans (including her best friend and boyfriend) go on a search for supplies in the zombie side of the wall, and R and his zombie pals go toward the human part of town to grab some food. After which R eats Julie's boyfriend and kidnaps Julie. Then the big romance blossoms complete with balcony scene. All in all a good read that could be good for many audiences, an interesting take on the zombie apocalypse, and a funny take on a classic Shakespearian love story.
'Warm bodies' is essentially a zombie love story, a story about a reanimated corpse named 'R' who falls in love with Julie, one of the last of humankind struggling in a post-apocalyptic society. R comes across Julie when he attacks her boyfriend Perry. He consumes Perry's brain and begins to appropriate his memories, including those of Julie. As a result of this, he is drawn to Julie and decides to protect her from the feeding frenzy that takes the lives of her companions. He takes her back to the disused airport which he inhabits and from then on a strange but sweet and tender relationship develops between the two. R begins to relearn what it is to love someone and, as a result, what it is to be human again.
This is a novel which was recommended to me by a friend. The idea of it intrigued me - the notion of a romance between a young woman and the living dead was nothing I had ever heard of before and it was an idea that seemed almost contradictory. Nevertheless, it is an idea that works. It is easy to think that a piece of zombie fiction may be something that is based on cheap shocks and thrills. However, the story is beautifully written and engaging and it's quite possibly one of the best books I have read this year.
*~Meet R, a zombie with an existential crisis~*
What is most fascinating about the book is the idea that inside the minds of these groaning, rotting hunks of walking flesh and bone exist a reflective, even intelligent consciousness. I always thought of the zombie as a monster who robs the individual of their character, their mind and their essence. However, 'R' defies this. He is a zombie who has no memory of when he was alive and yet is capable of intelligent thought, even philosophical reflection. Gripped by the vigour of rigor mortis and early decomposition, he finds it difficult to express his thoughts aloud. Nevertheless, he spends a lot of time thinking about things. He is a zombie experiencing an existential crisis and after meeting Julie, she becomes to one who helps him find meaning and purpose in his life, or should I say afterlife.
R is a wonderful character. I had never come across a zombie protagonist or narrator before and this makes the novel remarkably unusual. Moreover, Isaac Marion has a very unique writing style employing a colourful use of language and ideas. This allows him to create a number of interesting and engaging characters which I found easy to become emotionally involved with. He bestows real personality and humanity upon 'R' making him an insightful, and quite often, witty character. In one instance, 'R' is interrogated by Julie about his killing habit, his desire to consume brains. Upon this occasion 'R' expresses his reaction with a sort of dry wit. He says that he felt 'like a toddler caught finger-painting on the wall. Or killing dozens of people.' I found this image quite amusing in some way. R is standing there before Julie squirming like a toddler who has done something naughty, but instead of having red paint on his face, his face is smeared with blood.
The other characters in the book are also very interesting and engaging. Julie and her friend Nora are vibrant characters which inject colour into the grey landscape of their post-apocalyptic world. The stadium where they live, one of the few human colonies left, seems like a dour and serious environment. Nevertheless, Julie and Nora manage to remain bubbly and energetic, unafraid of exploration and socialization even with a zombie in tow. At one point Nora comes across an expensive vintage wine in the stadium and takes a drink of it when she probably shouldn't be drinking. In a hedonistic and exuberant manner she knocks back the wine and proclaims: 'I describe it as yummy, with notes of f***ing delicious.'
Of course, Julie is the more significant of the two characters. In this novel, she acts as a catalyst of change for 'R' and the rest of the world. This is largely due to the fact that, out of everyone in the novel, Julie is the one who is most alive. She is a feisty, tough and assertive young woman. This is in spite of the fact that she is the daughter of the general, leader of the stadium in which she lives, who would no doubt prefer that she conforms to the order and regulation of stadium life.
She is a passionate and lively girl who holds an appreciation of the arts which her dull world seems to have left to rot. She salvages once-famous art works in her bedroom and at one point, expresses a burning passion for music. With a youthful enthusiasm she exclaims:
'Music is life! It's physical emotion - you can touch it! It's neon ecto-energy sucked out of spirits and switched into sound waves for your ears to swallow.'
I love the passion and the energy of Julie's character which contrasts with the bleak world which she inhabits. Her character is used to explore one of the important themes of the novel - life, death, what it is to be human and what it means to be alive. Marion seems to play with the idea of life and death in a sort of paradoxical manner. At one point in the book, Julie and Nora are discussing the difficulty of having so many people living within the stadium. It is at this point that R refers to the 'strained belly of a morbidly pregnant woman.' It seems that what could give life could very well kill it as human beings try to outlive their means.
As the story progresses, it is also suggested that there is more to being alive or dead than an individual's biological state. It seems that the notion of being alive is more of a state of mind than state of body. Order, duty and industry have sucked the life out of most of the human beings that lie in the stadium, Julie's father included. It is almost as if it is difficult to tell who is truly alive or dead: the decomposing zombie or the living breathing human.
*~Twilight with zombies? I think not!~*
Isaac Marion's novel is a smart one. I think that, with its love story, it would be tempting to describe the book as Twilight with zombies, particularly with Stephanie Meyer's praise quoted on the cover. However, I think that that's a bit of an insult to the novel. This book oozes creativity, originality and wit which I believe that Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series is severely lacking.
I wouldn't say that the novel is entirely perfect. For any avid fan of zombie fiction - whether in films, books or any media - you will probably be familiar with the idea that zombie apocalypses often serve as a kind of social metaphor - a commentary upon the current state of the real world. In 'Dawn of the Dead', for example, George Romero criticizes contemporary consumer culture. Without giving too much away about the plot, 'Warm Bodies' employs its own social critique.
Now I would argue that social commentary within novels is something that should be quite subtle and should be left to be fleshed out by anyone with half a brain (pun very much intended). It should be an underlying feature rather than a bold statement. However, I was a little bit disappointed at how in your face Isaac Marion's social critique was. His views on humanity seem to be spelt out for you in an almost dumbed down fashion.
Again, I don't want to ruin the book for you but what I will say is that there is a speech-like declaration made by one of the characters towards the end that I found, in its particular context, to be quite preachy and slightly cheesy. It reminds me of a string of films and novels that have cropped up recently with eco-warrior and/or strong humanist agendas and seem eager to beat their ideas into you with a naturally-sourced, organic, fair trade biodegradable stick. Not that I don't care about protecting the planet (far from it - I recycle, turn lights off and, as a lover of greenery and forests, am a bit of a tree hugger). I just don't appreciate when certain art forms get all cheesy and sentimental about it.
All in all, 'Warm Bodies' is a novel which, despite my reservations, appeals to common human emotions, embracing the idea of what it is to be human, to love and to live life. In a world once plagued with hate and greed, Julie and 'R's relationship is a love story set to heal the world.
Certainly, it is a story that is thoroughly entertaining and a very addictive read. It reads with an energy and quick pace which meant that I found it very difficult to put down, particularly as it reached a climax towards the end. As Isaac Marion's first novel, I am more than impressed. He provided me with characters that I genuinely cared about; his writing style was inventive and witty and the plot kept me hooked all throughout. Moreover, he has provided a new perspective on the zombie myth, breathing new life into this sub-genre of horror.
And would I read this book again? I absolutely would. In a beat of my well-oxygenated heart!
Writing Style: 9.5/10
Interesting fact: 'Warm Bodies' has already been taken on as a film project for Summit Entertainment, with Nicholas Hoult cast as 'R'.
Overall: I just couldn't put down this piece of zombie fiction and so couldn't give it less than 10/10.
*~Thank you for reading my review :-) ~ Also published on Ciao under 'Renza' - April 2011~*
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was released on 14th October 2010. It was published by Vintage and is 256 pages long. I was lucky enough to win this in a competition on Twitter.
The only thing R knows about himself is that he is a zombie. He has no memories of anything about his former life, not even his own name. Unlike the other zombies, he is able to dream even if he can't make any sense of them. R knows what he has to eat to survive but that doesn't mean he has to like it or want to do it.
Out on a hunt for food (humans), R manages to meet a girl who he refuses to eat. There is something about her and he just can't bring himself to kill her. He goes against everything he knows, goes against surviving, just to save a girl he knows as Julie. In a world where they should be enemies, R befriends Julie and promises to keep her safe, taking her home with him. As he spends more and more time with her, R's speech develops and he is able to say more and more by the day. He knows there is something different about Julie. She makes him want to dream. She makes him want to be alive. R is changing and he is no longer like the other zombies. Times are hard and everything is against R being able to spend time with the girl who is changing everything he known for a long time.
What I thought
I was so excited when I won this book because I hadn't read anything about zombies and this was one that I was hoping to love. It sounded exactly like the kind of book that I would usually pick myself.
As much as I read books about vampires, werewolves and demons, most of which I love if they are the main characters, I really didn't think that I would ever love a zombie in the same way. So they all have eating or killing people in common but for a zombie, there just isn't anything sexy or hot about it. If anything, I think I loved the main zombie in this book 'R' so much more than any other hero I have read about in a long time. The whole story is told from R's point of view and he had me from the first couple of lines.
"I'm dead but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it. I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore."
R lives (or doesn't live) in a world where zombies/ the infected are taking over and there are very few humans left. He lives in an abandoned airport and sleeps in an aeroplane. Even though he doesn't really have feelings and can only speak the most basic words, he is different from the other zombies because he is more aware of what is going on around him. He wonders about who he was when he was alive and what kind of a life he used to have due to the fact that he gets snippets of the lives of the people's brains that he eats. R doesn't want to be a zombie and from very early on, it seemed that he would have done anything to be alive again.
When Julie enters the scene, R knows that it is wrong to save her, that the others of his kind are hungry and need to feed, but he can't help himself. I instantly liked Julie because she seemed like the kind of girl that you wouldn't want to mess with. She's had a pretty bad time of it since the dead took over and she isn't about to let the zombies take over her as well. Julie tries to see the best about her situation after R kind of kidnaps her. She takes it upon herself to try to talk to him and to find out more about the zombies, even though he has the most basic language skills. At times where R would shrug off an answer, Julie makes him talk to her instead. All of these little things added to R wanting to be alive again, remembering little bits at a time. Julie really brought out the best in R, making him want to be better in order to get what he wanted. There is a lot more going on between Julie and R that has a massive impact on the story but I don't really want to say anything about that because it is too spoilery.
Isaac Marion created a world that I was fully absorbed in. The dead have pretty much taken over everything and there are barely any humans anymore. The humans that have managed to survive are all in hiding, trying to survive and make the best of what they have left. Not only are there zombies but something called The 'Boneys'. As you can imagine from the name, they are skeleton like and are a hell of a lot more scary than the zombies. There was so much going on in this world that it would be hard to not have a million thoughts running through your head as the story goes on. I wanted to know why the dead took over because no one knows this. I wanted to know what was going on in the rest of the world and how the dead had spread. I wanted to know what human kind were doing to survive and if they were planning on just repopulating even though supplies were limited. There were so many questions I would have liked answered but the mystery of the story was one of the things that I really enjoyed. Normally I would class this as a bad thing, not knowing, but I can't fault it this time around because it just added to making this story amazing.
Warm Bodies is far from being all doom and gloom and about the end of the world though. The story is exciting and action packed, moving along at a quick pace. There was always something going on, no matter how small the event, that kept my interest throughout. Warm Bodies is a heart warming love story about wanting to be better for the sake of someone else as well as yourself. Warm Bodies is witty and humourous and it had me laughing even when I didn't think it would be possible. The characters suck you into their world and don't let go until the very end. I can't praise this book enough but I will say that it surpassed my every expectation. Not read about zombies yet? This is the book to start with!