“Handling the Undead” by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010)

Handling the Undead

These days, with zombie media invading, attacking, and overriding the TV, big screen, and printed page like the very armies of living dead they are talking about; to make a zombie story stand out and seem original and interesting is not an easy thing to do.  Maybe it takes setting your zombie stage somewhere different and foreign, and perhaps changing the entire dynamic of how zombies are created.  Enter Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the internationally bestselling Let the Right One In, who turns to the living dead in a totally new way in Handling the Undead.

Lindqvist doesn’t waste any time setting the scene, throwing the reader straight into the story.  We’re in Stockholm and something very weird is going on: a power surge, making it impossible to turn off electronic devices, while the lights keep getting brighter.  As the minutes tick by on this hot summer night in Sweden, everyone has a splitting headache which isn’t being helped by the heat or the bright lights; nerves are frayed and anger is rising.  When it seems like one’s head might just explode, there is a final surge and then it goes black and everything returns to normal.

Then the dead come back to life.

No one knows what to do, including the zombies.  They have risen from the cold slabs in the morgue; dug themselves out of their graves; and pulled themselves up from their final resting place, looking for their home, a place of familiarity, unable to communicate and appear to be just walking corpses that shouldn’t be alive.  The families and friends of these zombies are just as confused, not knowing whether to help or run away.  The Swedish government steps in, rounding up the living dead and quarantining them until more can be found out; fears of a virus or contagion run rampant.  But this is a socialist state and the government is going to do its job and protect its people.  Rosters are created of all the dead to ensure every last one is collected.

One young boy remains unaccounted for, as his mother – who never recovered from his death – and his grandfather secret him away to a Swedish countryside cottage in the archipelago and attempt to halt the state of his decomposition and make him look more . . . human, with the use of saline and glucose solutions and lots of moisturizing cream.  Meanwhile it seems that the very recently deceased zombies do possess some faculties of communication.  It also appears that when the zombies are grouped together, people are somehow able to read each others’ thoughts, as well as the zombies presumably reading theirs.  When bad thoughts are created, the zombies turn violent.

While the ending of Handling the Undead leaves a lot to be satisfied – failing in ways that many horror books do – Lindqvist has created an interesting and different zombie story that doesn’t just seek to scare the reader, but to make them think and question what it means to be alive.  Fans of Lindqvist will enjoy this book and look for what’s to come next.

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Originally written on October 29, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.