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Isaac Marion breathes new life into zombie myth...
Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion
Member Name: Renza_e
Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion
Date: 27/04/11, updated on 27/04/11 (80 review reads)
Advantages: Sublime writing style, interesting characterization, plot and overall creativity.
Disadvantages: Social commentary is a little bit too 'in your face' for my liking...
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~*
Summary: As Isaac Marion's first novel, I expect great things from him!