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HANDLING THE UNDEAD
by John Ajvide Lindqvist and Ebba Segerberg, trans.
Quercus, July 2009
464 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1847249906


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is somewhat difficult to categorise this book, if one is intent on forcing books into genres where they may not, perhaps, be too comfortable. When one considers "zombies," no doubt one's expected classification would be "horror" but really, there is little of the commonly accepted feeling of horror in this work -- unless one counts the death of a loved one.

There is an unusual electrical event in Stockholm. It becomes impossible to turn off appliances. Not only that, the inhabitants are stricken with awful headaches.

David, Eva and their small son Magnus comprise a nuclear family. Eva wants to visit her father and David has to go to work (he is a stand-up comedian.) Whilst at work, David is horrified to be told that Eva has been killed in an accident. He goes to the hospital and is sitting beside the bed where she died when suddenly her body is reanimated. He had not seen the white caterpillar that had come into the room and dropped on her blanket, then dug itself into her.

Meanwhile, Mahler visits his daughter, Anna. She is mourning Elias, her six year-old son. When he goes home, he receives a phone call telling him that the corpses are escaping from the morgue.

Flora and her granddaughter Elvy share a psychic ability they describe as the Sense. They are together when the pain strikes, but Elvy understands what causes it and explains to Flora "It was the spirits, the souls of the dead. They have been let out." It is not long since they were bereaved.

I felt the characterisation in this novel was excellent. The author seems to have a profound knowledge of human society as well as individuals.

I suppose the injection of telepathy into the tale was necessary. The dead certainly needed to be able to communicate with the living, especially at the end. But I can't say I understood the function of the white caterpillars.

One unfortunate aspect of the characterisation was when a group of yobbos intruded into the action. Apparently that destructive element is the same throughout the civilised world. Even so, without that particular scene, the overall picture of society would have been incomplete.

While I can't say I experienced unalloyed pleasure whilst reading this novel, I can certainly appreciate the undeniable talent of the imaginative author.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, March 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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