Friday, October 15, 2010

Fiction: Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

In a publishing era when anything that even whiffs of Stieg Larssen seems to draw attention, it’s not surprising that John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2005 novel has been polished up, dusted off and has found its way back to the top of the pile.

A thoughtful, though horrific, contemplation on life after death (or perhaps more accurately, life beyond death) there is often something philosophical in Lindqvist’s thoughtful prose. And there are zombies. And, somehow, the two things are not mutually exclusive.
One single muscle in a person’s body. A speck of dust in time. And the world is dead. David stood next to her bed with his arms by his sides, the headache burning behind his forehead.

Here lay his whole future, everything good that he could even imagine was gone from life. Here lay the last twelve years of his past. Everything gone; and time shrank to a single unbearable now.
This is David, identifying his wife’s corpse at the hospital. And what we witness here is a husband’s natural grieving. His wife is dead, her face and apart of her body torn away in an accident.

And then she opens one eye.

And it’s not just David and his beloved Eva that this is happening to. It’s happening throughout the whole city: the newly departed are sitting up and demanding to be noticed, much to the joy and then terror of their families.

Handling the Undead (St. Martin’s Press) is a frightening, thoughtful book. The two things should not go together and most of the time they do not. Lindqvist pulls it off, though. These are not the garish, neon zombies you’ve encountered in English language fiction. These are proper Swedish zombies, starkly nuanced, fully realized, frighteningly rendered. You might not ever sleep again. ◊

Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in the Chicago area, where he works in the high-tech industry. He is currently working on a his first novel, a science-fiction thriller set in the world of telecommunications.

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