HandlingtheundeadJohnAjv54431_fOtherwise known as the it-really-freaked-me-out Swedish zombie one.

So Handling the Undead is the second book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote Let the Right One In which was one of my favourite reads of last year and spawned one of the best films of 2009 (thoughts on the book are here, and the film over here). 

We are in Stockholm; the whole of the population seems to be sharing in one giant communal headache as it what feels like a thunderstorm is approaching, and no electrical appliances can be turned off, so this is a group of people under some stress. And then suddenly it stops. And roughly at the same time the dead come back to life; well not all of the dead, only those who have passed away during the previous two months.

We follow what happens over several days through a small group of characters: David, a stand-up comic whose wife is killed in a car accident just before the zombie stuff starts, and is among the first to come back; Magnus, a reporter whose young grandson died in an accident several weeks before; and Elvy, recently widowed, and her grand-daughter Flora, who both have a paranormal gift and can tell what others are feeling. Not giving too much away here as these characters and their respective situations are all introduced in the first few pages and give the emotional heart to the book.

Now I will put my cards on the table here and say that I have always had a problem with the concept of zombies in that they totally terrify me. I don’t think I have ever been able to sit through a whole zombie movie. I can happily read/watch anything about vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beasties, but zombies definitely give me pause. And I think it’s because it could happen; not the living coming back to life as such, but large groups of people becoming violent through some kind of virus or something sounds all too plausible to me and I’d rather not think about it, thank you very much.

And certainly the beginning of the book played into all of that, being pretty gruesome and not a little frightening, and it’s probably my own fault that I got so freaked as I started reading the book in bed, a stupid thing to do giving everything I said above and perhaps I deserved what I got (but thankfully no nightmares).

But then it turns into something quite different. What do the reliving actually want? How would you react if someone close to you came back but weren’t quite right? How does a modern, liberal, enlightened western European nation actually handle a situation (the answer being not terribly well and far too slowly)? And how do people of faith deal with what could be a harbinger of the end times? Oh, and can love survive?

Sounds like heavy stuff but this manages to deal with all of these issues in a thoughtful way, and this is where the range of characters actually helps move things along as they all look at the situation from a slightly different perspective. And I was so keen to find out how this would all end that I finished the book in bed in the small hours of the morning, despite my previous misgivings. It is quite gory in places but not gratuitously so.

Highly recommended. And my third read for the RIP Challenge. And I may just have to look at this zombie thing in a whole new light …

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