Warm Bodies – Issac Marion

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Zombies are people to? … Maybe we shouldn’t judge based on state of decay… maybe we can learn from the brain eating hoards…. It’s not going to stop me blowing them half to hell in Resident Evil, but I’ll definitely contemplate the matter while doing so.

R is a young man with an existential crisis–he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse. Just dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a burst of vibrant color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that R lives in. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead and the blurry line in between.

This is not a zombie novel. That’s weird to say given the protagonist himself is in fact a zombie, but this is definitely a category its own, more akin to paranormal romance than to zombie based horror, although it’s trying to straddle that delicate line between the two. Always it’s tip-toing that narrow-passage between working as one, and failing miserably as the other. However, for me it kinda worked… yeah…. That’s a little weird for me too.

Let’s start with that zombie protagonist. Personally, I like my zombies founded in scientific tragedy; your cures gone wrong, your worldwide pandemics and what have you, but Marion’s creatures stem from a somewhat vague source rooted in what I deem to be a spiritual problem.  His zombies still have functioning cognitive processes, which mean they’re not the instinct driven, crumbling remnants of humanity we’ve come to love from the genre; most of them anyway. Older zombies seem to fall victim to classic predator mode, but even they have a muted degree of social awareness. R, thus named due to convenient amnesia (never explained), lives in what I’m going to title, ‘a zombie civilisation’. It’s even got an established and operational cultural milieu. The matter gets silly in some areas – a church, weddings, and an education system for child converts – but does have impact on the story, which perpetuates the notion that the undead are in an eternal state of emulating the living, which is well defined given the circumstances of the novel. Thus R constantly speaks about the differences between being alive and being dead, and a quest to navigate back to the former, which feels entirely hopeless. And I actually really liked that. Again, who’da thunk?

R is easy to associate with, it’s easier than you’d think to identify and sympathise with him. The inherent tragedy of zombiehood is mutated through R into something smoother, creating a gradual sensation of misfortune. Due to R’s first-person-narrative, almost every theme works. He does tend to drone on in some scenes, but his connections with ideas on life and living, and the meaning of his muddled existence are genuine and thought-provoking. He’s a unique type of story-teller. The beginning of the novel is especially strong, setting the parameters of R’s (un-?)life with next to no dialogue. A lot of emphasis at this stage is placed on character building, crafting emotional depth and connection with the reader, which helps sustain the novel through its weaker aspects.

Zombie sex…. It’s more thought-provoking than you’d think.

Other than R, his zombie friend M was the only character I really enjoyed; his humour and … deadstyle (?) were hilarious. The female lead Julie didn’t leave much of an influence. She’s not terrible as a character – her personality is okay, and she doesn’t wave too far into action-girl or wimp territory, but she’s almost a LINETS. Her presence in the plot is passive at best, and the romance aspect takes away from the true potential of the plot. Personally, I would have enjoyed it more if R was responsible for his own change, but Julie is the constant guide, shifting all blame from him. If the plot had focused more on R’s need for redemption and his struggle to procure it, and less on Julie and her paradigm altering existence, I think the novel would be much more striking.  If Julie is not essential, then for me, Perry is useless. Past the first few meetings with him, his presence is just available to speed up the falling-in-love process, and it’s irritating (and again, explanation free).

The story itself is strong enough; it moves fluidly from chapter-to-chapter, with a good action-to-development ratio. However, Marion doesn’t do much in the explanation department. So many details are never clarified. How did the world get ‘infected’? Why do brains reveal memories? Why does death erase personal memories and yet not tamper with general knowledge?  These questions aren’t so much brushed past as ignored, and the world building suffers immensely for it.  Other than the airport, there’s not much atmosphere building. I wasn’t scared at any point. There are a lot of flashbacks; they’re unnecessary. The romance isn’t great either, Julie and R (and dear golly, if you don’t get the constant references, Shakespeare wasn’t drilled into you nearly enough in school), have a standard engagement as far as these things go; don’t understand each other, laugh a bit, cry a bit, fall in love, etc etc. It isn’t dire, but it isn’t new, and was of little consequence to me. The best thing about the story is the humour; the situation and characters lead to some hilarious moments and dialogue, and the deadpan narrative at the beginning makes for some unique irony and dark jokes.

As I said, R hold this together, tying up the themes and scenarios, and I was with him every step of the way. The plot was never boring or overly serious, and it does have both genuine emotion and meaning. I can understand why some people wouldn’t like it, but it kept me entertained.

The movie is going to be all kinds of strange.

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