10 Feb 2011

Thoughts: Handling the Undead

Title: Handling the Undead
Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 364
Source: Borrowed from the library

In his new novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist does for zombies what his previous novel, Let the Right One In, did for vampires.

Across Stockholm the power grid has gone crazy. In the morgue and in cemeteries, the recently deceased are waking up. One grandfather is alight with hope that his grandson will be returned, but one husband is aghast at what his adored wife has become.

A horror novel that transcends its genre by showing what the return of the dead might really mean to those who loved them.

An odd heatwave in Stockholm is topped off by a weird electrical surge that gives the populace an intense headache and causes all the appliances to stay on. Once it passes, things go back to normal with one exception; the recently departed have come back to life. This is the beginning of the new novel by the author of Let the Right One In.

I loved what Lindqvist did with his previous novel, but Handling the Undead left me uninspired. I didn't have the same sort of 'run out and tell everyone to read it' that I had after I finished Let the Right One In. I had actually forgotten, albeit only momentarily, how Handling had ended, even though I'd only finished it the night before. That's how much of an impact this book made on me.

What worked was the base concept. I was really looking forward to reading a completely different take on the whole zombie thing. How would people deal with their undead relatives returning to them? We get to see some of that explored through the three main families that move the story along. David's wife, Eva, dies in a car accident just shortly before the strange surge so he's at her bedside when she returns to life. Gustav's grandson passed away a few months before the surge, but becomes reanimated as well. Flora's grandfather finds his own way home from the funeral home, scaring Flora and her grandmother half to death. Each family has to deal with this new situation and each does in their own way.

The writing is haunting, but the story itself is relatively slow and plods along towards the end.

What didn't work for me was the multiple POV's. I'd just get into what was happening with Gustav and we'd be switched to David or Flora. Tossed into the mix were short blurbs at the end of some chapters that were filled with government insights, military reports, foreign news reports about the situation in Stockholm; honestly some of those were more interesting than the main plot lines. The end felt rushed and, in my opinion, was unsatisfying. Just as things started getting interesting the book ended.

This didn't feel even remotely anything like what JVL did for vampires in Let the Right One In at all.  I suppose I was hoping for more than what was delivered, but the book still gets an 'it was OK' from me.

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