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Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Originally posted on Wed, Aug 04 2010 at ROPL.org.

You don’t need to like zombies in order to appreciate Lindqvist’s exceptional novel. Unlike traditional zombie stories, Handling the Undead is not about the coming zombie apocalypse. The undead, or reliving as they’re termed in the novel, have not come back to eat our brains.

Don’t misunderstand me, Lindqvist’s novel is a horror story. The novel, set in Stockholm, beings with an unbearable pain in the heads of it’s citizens. It intensifies as we’re introduced to our main characters: a loving father/husband and his son, an overweight and lonely grandfather/journalist and his daughter, and a young, rebellious teenager and her grandmother. Connected only by the loosest of events — and the zombies themselves, these characters carry us through the story of the reliving. When the headaches subside, it seems nothing’s changed — except the recently dead have returned.

Instead of a harrowing tale of survival and battling zombies in order to keep living, Handling the Undead is an intimate look at what happens when loved ones come back from the dead — and come back to us. Lindqvist explores the confusion that surrounds the return of the undead, the fears that cause some to run and hide from the undead, while others to take their reliving and hide away. There are no true happy endings, but it doesn’t matter. As with Lindqvist’s other horror novel, Let The Right One In, he creates a world that is like our own — but with subtle changes that make sure it’s one we don’t want to live in. Though where the vampires in Let The Right One In are scary and dangerous, the zombies/reliving in Handling the  Undead only want to be free.

Many zombie novels play on the idea that zombies are conscious beings who happen to have died (see: Daniel Waters’ Generation Dead series) or hoards that must be eliminated (see: Mira Grant’sFeed). Handling the Undead treats it’s zombies as the people they once were, which fills the novel with so much emotion that it’s hard not to care — both about the fate of the characters and the reliving they once cared dearly for. Near the end of the novel, there’s a moment of mayhem that will be familiar to every zombie fan out there. But in the end, Handling the Undead is more than just another zombie novel — it’s about love, letting go and moving on. While not particularly profound, it is a novel that makes us both feel and think about both live and death.

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