Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Handling the Undead

John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2005 (English translation 2009), Penguin Books Australia

Something very weird is going on in Stockholm. Every electrical appliance in the city refuses to power down. The entire population are struck by blinding headaches, which slowly build in pressure before suddenly vanishing. And then, in morgues and cemeteries across Stockholm, the recently-dead begin to rise.

Handling the Undead is a beautifully-written, sad, and occasionally quite creepy novel about loss and the very human inability to deal with it, which utilises the zombie trope in new and fascinating ways. The walking dead of Sweden are not the ravenous flesh-eaters of Romero’s creation (at least, not exactly), but ordinary dead folk who rise, and walk, and attempt to return to those they left behind (thereby having more in common with the zombies from the 2004 French movie, Les Revenants). But not everything is as it seems. It soon becomes apparent that the ‘Reliving’ are not entirely whole, and that something other than memory or even humanity now drives them. It’s difficult to say more without giving away too much, but I will hint that much of the plot hinges not upon how the zombies affect the living – an issue nonetheless well-addressed – but upon how the living affect the dead.

Handling the Undead is a definite ‘must read’, as is Ajvide’s previous novel, Let the Right One In, which deals with vampirism. Given that the current movie adaptation of Let the Right One In (scripted by Ajvide himself) has been such a massive commercial and critical success worldwide, it seems likely that we’ll be seeing a film treatment of Handling the Undead soon.

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