In the summer, there are strange happenings in Sweden that are hard to ignore. First, people have headaches and electrical items refuse to turn off. They can’t even be unplugged and if this is attempted, the person gets an electric shock. When things suddenly return to normal, the unthinkable happens: the dead rise. These zombies seem to just walk around with no capacity to understand or speak or even harm the living. This is only happening in Stockholm which leads the world to ask: what caused this? Why such a small area? While the rest of the world is trying to make sense of the event, the inhabitants of Stockholm are dealing with their dead loved ones with interesting results. David’s wife had died minutes before the uprising, making his wife the only zombie that can speak. Elvy and her granddaughter Flora are both psychic and don’t know what to make of Elvy’s dead husband showing up at their door. Journalist Gustav Mahler and his daughter have been in a stasis since his grandson died and now see new hope in the dead rising. They just have to dig him out of his grave.
This is an entirely unexpected zombie novel. John Ajvide Lindqvist has done for zombies what he did for vampires in his previous novel Let the Right One In; he practically reinvented the genre. The novel is like a slow burn. It moves slowly, but succeeds in being extremely suspenseful and an altogether different kind of horror than is common in the genre. The focus of the novel isn’t the gore or the zombies or the reasons for these strange happenings, but the living people that have close family members returning as zombies. The people focused on are about as different as can be, but they all share in this bizarre experience. Each character is described eloquently, complete with histories that directly influence how they deal with the zombies. Their reactions are realistic and believable, ranging from religious fanaticism to hysteria to anger to disgust to delusions of normalcy. Each chapter focuses on a different group of characters. Lindqvist is skilled at capturing different individuals’ voices, getting into the hearts and minds of each character, and making it all ring true. The most chilling situation is with Gustav Mahler, his daughter, and her young, undead son.
One thing that I really enjoyed is the presence of the rest of the world in the novel. Many other zombie books and movies are just focused on one country with no reactions or events from other countries. Newspaper articles, television interviews, and radio broadcasts from all over the world are placed in between chapters through most of the book. It lets the reader know that this is an isolated incident and what other countries think about it, as well as giving the story a sense of realism.
There are only a few things in the novel that are flawed. The cause of the uprising is never revealed. I don’t find this a flaw, but I think other fans of the genre would. This isn’t the focus of the story, so it essentially doesn’t really matter what caused it. The ending of the novel is pretty much unresolved. I feel like it could have been tied together a little better. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote a follow up novel to continue the story.
Although it has a few flaws, Handling the Undead really blew me away with its originality and eloquence. I can’t wait to see what John Ajvide Lindqvist will do next.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins
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**This post is for Velvet's September Zombies.**