Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Handling the Undead - John Ajvide Lindqvist

At last! People are reading, or wanting to read, and talking about, one of my favourite books from last year - Let the Right One In. The movie version is currently showing at the Nova, probably causing the renewed interest. The film was great - except for one laughable scene involving a very-taxidermied-cat attack. But alas, I'm already onto Lindqvist's next book Handling The Undead. Let The Right One In was about vampires, Handling The Undead is about zombies, and apparently Lindqvist's latest book (published in Sweden, but yet to be translated into English) is about two teenage ghosts who ride motorbikes around town, quoting Smiths lyrics along the way! I do love this guy.

However...I had to stop reading HTU, only forty pages or so from the end. It was quite frankly doing my head in! I used to be the type that soldiered on to the end of any book or movie, out of a displaced sense of duty or perseverance, but fortunately I've grown out of this tendency (except for stupidly taking time out from the music at ATP to watch Kim Ki Duk's The Isle all the way through, including all the fish hooks in vagina bits and thereby ruining me for the rest of the day). It's not that the book is bad - it's great in fact - but it was just growing too depressing and painful for me to read. Some of that may have to do with my current mental state; there are times when it's wise to surround myself with only frothy, happy cultural products. This may well be one of those times.

I looked for reviews of HTU online, but I haven't been able to find anything considered or extensive. I was hoping someone could give me a reason to keep continuing, to show me the very dim light of hope that might be hiding somewhere in the book. But maybe it's not there. Lindqvist (in a rare interview) said of Let The Right One In that he was trying to imagine the reality of being a child vampire, that is would be `miserable, gross and lonely.' And I think that's exactly what he's doing in this second book.

It's not a zombie novel in the schlock horror sense (there's no braiiiinnnzzz going on), rather a very successful attempt to imagine how it would really be if everyone that had died in the Stockholm area in the previous two months, were to one day suddenly come back to life or re-animate. The book takes a two-pronged approach: on one level it follows a handful of characters whose loved ones return to them and examines their personal, individual reactions, and on the other level it examines how the state structures (the police, the military, the government) respond to a social emergency. It's fascinating and thought-provoking, with religion and philosophy and ethics and emotions all called into play....But...

I just find myself getting so panicked and depressed reading it! I'm not sure where Lindqvist or any of his characters stand on the nature of the soul, and its relation to the physical body. His very clearly drawn images of decaying bodies, with some minor aspects of the dead person's personality and memory still residing in there, leave me feeling really disturbed. It's not so much that I want people's souls to go somewhere after we die, it's more that I find the idea that they are not set free in a cease-to-exist-at-all way even more disturbing. Does that make any sense? This book has got me all confused!

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