Nov 19, 2010

John Ajvide Linqvist : Handling the undead

Sweden has been hit with a weird medical happening over the last two months. Due to excessive heat levels and energy spikes, the dead seem to have returned to life. Well, it's not like all of the deceased Swedes have returned to life. I'd say a good estimate would put it around 10% of the deceased population has returned. Several citizens mark this resurrection with a degree of horror and hope. The recently widowed, orphaned and general grieving are hoping that this means their loved ones will return hope. Others fear what sort of horrors that the walking dead bring with them.

 The undead of this book aren't ghouls, but they aren't normal. These undead are shells of their former selves who are trying to return to their past lives. What makes this more of a tease is that so many grieving individuals are seeing these creatures and wanting their loved ones to come back.

The horror begins, as we find two grieving individuals that are desperate to be visited by a relative zombie. When the grandfather Mahler learns of the dead's return, he gets the idea that his deceased grandson might be alive in his coffin. Fighting against reason, he breaks into the local graveyard and begins to unearth the eight year old child. The readers get to follow along, as his troubled mind tries to rationalize his actions until he finally breaks the coffin lid. Feeling inside against the exposed bone, he realizes that his grandson hasn't returned as the same child. The sense of disgust and personal horror is what helps to drive the true terror of this work.

Linqvist  slowly weaves together an intelligent, philosophical look at what would happen if the dead were to unnaturally rise from their graves. "Handling the Undead" doesn't really focus on the zombies themselves. Instead, Lindqvist conjures up a simple scenario, and examines how people would react to it -- we see hysteria, suicide, denial, dismissal, religious fervor, and a delusional belief that the zombies can simply go back to their old lives. And he brings up a number of philosophical questions with no easy answers.

In a book filled with subtle, creeping psychological horror, the author also fleshes out his characters beautifully, giving each one a backstory that shapes their current reactions. And he handles each one with compassion, even if they're delusional or twerpy.

Although perhaps a bit slow in the middle, this is a horror novel that transcends its genre by showing what the return of the dead might really mean to those who loved them.

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  1. Ok, the concept is intriguing and unbelievably intelligent but I don't like the way this guy writes and I can't tell too acurately why. Some characters are great but there's a lot of weird ones I can't feel related too and I don't give a damn about what happens to them all through the book. There's a moment it seems he's gonna construct something impresive but finally it fall short of my expectations and there's only fireworks left, If u know what I mean. Flashes of greatness in a not to well executed book.

  2. Look, Maki's exagerating, as ever. He's a bit right and not too remote from reality but the book is distressing, terrifying and sometimes deeply and masterfully disgusting. And the basic idea, the essence of the undead that the author has imagined is as new, surprising and original as could be. I do not feel I have wasted my time with this book although Maki has a point in what he says

  3. I feel both of you are right, Maki and Nina. Although I agree with Maki that the middle section of the book is kind of boring and I'm completely indifferent to some of the characters, the continous sensation of unease I had all along the reading of the book strikes me as having its own non-negligible merit.

    To everyone: we would be delighted to read more opinions so, if you happen to have read this book, please, go ahead and share yours with us.


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