Monday, January 23, 2012

{review} warm bodies

Isaac Marion Warm Bodies (2010)


None of us are particularly attractive, but death has been kinder to me than some. I’m still in the early stages of decay. Just the grey skin, the unpleasant smell, the dark circles under my eyes. I could almost pass for a Living man in need of a vacation. Before I became a zombie I must have been a businessman, a banker or broker or some young temp learning the ropes, because I’m wearing fairly nice clothes. Black slacks, grey shirt, red tie. M makes fun of me sometimes. He points at my tie and tries to laugh, a choked, gurgling rumble deep in his gut. His clothes are holey jeans and a plain white T-shirt. The shirt is looking pretty macabre by now. He should have picked a darker colour.
Customarily I don't watch zombie films and I don't read zombie novels. Until now.

I couldn't resist curiosity killed the bookworm's recommendation, and I did enjoy this book a lot. It is a sort of zombie love story set in a post-apocalyptic American city - a "post-human, posthumous age". Something happened (we are never quite sure what) and zombies (the Dead) now roam the destroyed cities feeding on the surviving humans (the Living) who have been foolish enough to leave the shelter of their fortified encampments in a stadium and so on.
We start to smell the Living as we approach a dilapidated apartment building. The smell is not the musk of sweat and skin, but the effervescence of life energy, like the ionised tang of lightning and lavender. We don’t smell it in our noses. It hits us deeper inside, near our brains, like wasabi. 
Warm Bodies is narrated by 'R', a zombie. Out on a hunting trip from the zombie nest in an abandoned airport, 'R' is happily eating the brain of a human when the memories of the victim (yes, you get a sort of TV image of people's memories as you munch their brain: "the good part, the part that makes my head light up like a picture tube... Flashes of parades, perfume, music . . . life. Then it fades") about a young woman, Julie, trigger some sort of change in 'R'  and he finds himself beginning to alter. It is a feeling perhaps akin to coming to life. One manifestation of this is that he does not kill the young woman in question but takes her, still living, back to the airport to live with him.

The narrative is wonderfully funny (particularly on the theme of "I distracted myself with some groaning"; and "speed-lumbering") and bizarre ("I reach into my pocket and pull out my last chunk of cerebrum") to start with, but the introduction of a more serious authorial tone made the final third a bit of a drag for me as the funny love-story got bogged down in moralizing about how we humans had stuffed up and it was all our fault (the symbolism of 'rottenness' gets a good workout) and we needed to be redeemed by the outcast (Messiah?) zombie and the fallen human woman fighting against the patriarchal fun-censoring Father.

The 'message' takes itself a bit seriously with regards to this harsh world without literature where only survival matters (an interesting subplot is how zombies can't read):

No one I know has any specific memories. Just a vague, vestigial knowledge of a world long gone. Faint impressions of past lives that linger like phantom limbs. We recognise civilisation – buildings, cars, a general overview – but we have no personal role in it. No history. We are just here. We do what we do, time passes, and no one asks questions. But like I’ve said, it’s not so bad. We may appear mindless, but we aren’t. The rusty cogs of cogency still spin, just geared down and down till the outer motion is barely visible. We grunt and groan, we shrug and nod, and sometimes a few words slip out. It’s not that different from before. But it does make me sad that we’ve forgotten our names. Out of everything, this seems to me the most tragic. 

The message can seem somewhat deliberately forced. There were also various elements in the narrative that didn't make much sense to me about the structure of the zombie society too but maybe that's because I'm a naive zombie user. The book is very cinematic with a vivid narration and action sequences (no surprise that it is being made into a film). The writing is very good.

All in all: mostly a very funny book with some great one-liners and plenty of zombie action. It didn't develop in quite the way I thought it might go.

Rating: 7/10. It is very funny.

If you liked this... I don't know. I've not read The Road, but I suspect it's that territory but with jokes. I recently enjoyed reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which also deals with the question of what makes one human.

 

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