Handling the Undead
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
translated by Ebba Segerberg
4 stars - not what I expected
ALR Green - a pet rabbit is killed, but it is quick and painless
I'll admit it. I was wandering the stacks at the library and came across this volume and I thought "Oh boy, a zombie book! I haven't read a zombie book in a while."
But this isn't really a zombie book. It is much more.
In a town in Sweden, the dead begin coming back to life. They are not angry, not dangerous, just reanimated. Still, it is disturbing. They cannot communicate, they appear confused, and people are, understandably, shocked and frightened.
It soon turns out that the undead are limited to people who have died within the past two months. That's not only a manageable number, but it's easy to figure out who they all are. Graves are exhumed (back a few extra weeks, just to be sure), the undead are rounded up and transported to a detention center for examination and containment. What has caused this? What do they want?
The book is deceptive in how it guides the reader from the first stages of a subtle horror story, to the larger picture of how a community responds to their new citizens, and then to something more. We learn about events through three families. Mahler, his daughter, and young grandson (recently deceased), David and his newly dead wife, and Flora and her grandma Elvy whose husband returns from the grave. Each family deals with the circumstances differently and through each family we learn more about what might (or might not) be going on.
I don't want to give away too much. I will say that if you are looking for a horror novel, this isn't the place to go (despite what the dust jacket implies). I found the story to be ultimately very sad, very moving, as the author explored the loss of loved ones and the possibilities of their return. A return, not of the person one lost, but of something else, something so close, yet different, wrong, impossible.
Don't read this if you are feeling melancholy or worried about sick or aging friends or family. On the other hand, if you do choose to read this when you have the loss of a loved one on your mind, read it through as quickly as possible. The ending is bittersweet. Both comforting and filled with anguish.