Arriving in stores on September 28 from Thomas Dunne Books is the English-translated “Handling the Undead”, a zombie tale from Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Best known for penning “Let the Right One In”, “Undead” begins in Stockholm where 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. Bloody Disgusting Ryan Daley has posted his review of the book, which can be found inside.
David asked, “Excuse me, but…have you got a headache too?”
“Yes,” the man answered, and pressed his fist against his head. “It’s terrible.”
“I was just wondering.”
According to the New Testament, Christ brought a four days dead Lazarus back to life. It’s one of our earliest zombie stories. Catholics believe that later in life Lazarus became a respected bishop, so it’s safe to assume that he didn’t return from the dead with an uncontrollable, lurching hunger for human brains. But where was Lazarus’ soul for those four long days? Apparently John was too busy compiling his Gospel to send out a beat reporter for a Lazarus interview, but I sure would have liked to have been a fly on the wall of that tomb. Handling the Undead, the most recently translated novel by Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist, takes a spiritual approach to the traditional zombie story, replacing moaning cannibalism with deeper questions regarding the eternal nature of the human soul.
After a city-wide plague of blinding headaches and mysterious caterpillars (?), the dead residents of Stockholm begin to come back to life. Initially, the rules of Lindqvist’s zombie world are surprisingly strict. Only those who have been dead for less than two months return from the dead. They don’t moan and attack, they don’t have a hunger for human flesh, they just sit there, staring at nothing, simply existing. New dead stay dead; only the people who died during the specific two month window come back to life.
Lindqvist alternates his chapters between three sets of characters: Mahler, a man mourning the recent loss of his son (who did a Greg Louganis off the balcony); David, a man mourning the recent loss of his wife (who steered her car into an elk), and Elvy and Flora, a grandmother/granddaughter duo with psychic powers they call “The Sense”. (It’s plot points like this that have earned Lindqvist the title of “Sweden’s Stephen King”.)
Mahler and David are both attempting to forge new relationships with their recently returned loved ones, but they’re almost indistinguishable from each other as fictional characters; they’re just a couple of sad, grieving dudes. Flora flees to her boyfriend, while gramma Elvy views the zombie outbreak as the end of the world, and takes the opportunity to preach the word of God to the masses. There’s an expectation that the three storylines will converge at some point, but Lindqvist seems perfectly content to keep them separate for virtually all of the novel. Despite a few good moments peppered throughout, the book never really comes together as a whole.
Lindvist seems to be trying to say too much about grief and the finality of death to build a truly gripping plot. There are a few harrowing, gruesome scenes, but most of the book involves the characters pondering their actions rather than just…acting. Lacking the emotional resonance of Let the Right One In (which still remains one of the best depictions of bullying I have ever read), Handling the Undead trades that novel’s character depth and riveting dialogue for a shitload of slow-paced rumination and spiritual reflection. Once the novel ends, you realize how little has actually occurred.
The American translation hits bookstores on September 28.
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