Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

‘R’ is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.

Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows – warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can’t understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.

This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won’t be changed without a fight…

Review

I’m beginning to think that my status as a bona fide wimp may be in jeopardy. This is the second zombie book I’ve read within a 12 month period and I’ve really enjoyed them both.  Both were good for completely different reasons but great all the same.  Where This Is Not A Test was (mostly) edge-of-your-seat and run-away-from-the-zombies in style, Warm Bodies is much more thoughtful and looks at life from the perspective of the zombies.

Rather than plonking zombies in amongst fraught citizens and just hoping that readers go with it, Marion takes the time to build a world where readers can identify with the humans that are clinging to vestiges of the world that they knew while zombies populate the world they live in.  It’s a dark world with apparently little hope for the remaining humans but it wasn’t really their story that I found drawn towards.  R is one of the more…sensitive of his kind and can faintly remember that he had a life before the endless pursuit of human-food, if not the actual details.  Enough to know that his first inital was ‘R’, that there is more to life than preying on people and that music can make almost everything better.

Despite Marion’s zombies being the full-on brain-eating kind, R is unbelievably charming.  When a zombie consumes a person’s brain, they get to “live” that persons life for a few moments, experiencing flashes of their memories and seeing glimpses of the world through their eyes.  When R encounters Julie and her friends while out hunting for fresh brains, he goes against everything he can remember and protects her.  While she is stowed away in the aeroplane chassis he calls home, R gets to know Julie through less…conventional means.

The development of R and Julie’s relationship is adorable. For a being that can’t talk, R is surprisingly communicative.  Using the snippets of language that are coming back to him, gestures and his collection of albums, R manages to convey to Julie that he isn’t planning on devouring her and helps her start to get to know him.  There are enough reviews of this book out there now that I’m sure I don’t need to go into the connections between Shakespeare’s play and R and Julie.  They aren’t always the most subtle but it never bothered me at all. To be honest, there are plenty of quirks on the story that we all know so well and so much that makes this book unique that Marion could have followed whatever famous story he wanted and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

Although the novel is apparently a young adult one, the writing is intelligent and wonderful and the vision of a zombie-filled world extremely well thought out and astutely developed.  There are a lot of dystopian books around but few that really give you that heart-stopping moment of realisation about how fragile everything is.  Ellie articulated it much better than I’m sure I will (and pointed the way to the *superb* quote popping up in a little while…) but I loved how pensive such an ostensibly simple story could make me feel.  I’m a lawyer and my job is to explain the ‘rules’ that most of us in England live by to people and to whip those that don’t subscribe to or comply with those rules into shape.  It isn’t very often that I’m compelled to think about how flimsy and brittle that all is…

It didn’t take much to bring down the card house of civilisation.  Just a few gusts and it was done, the balance tipped, the spell broken.  Good citizens realised the lines that had shaped their lives were imaginary and easily crossed.  They had wants and needs and the power to satisfy them, so they did.  The moment the lights went out, everyone stopped pretending

The latter half of the book has more action and a little less musing on the nature of society and is heart-stopping for a different reason.  It’s a relatively short book to begin with but it’s brilliance makes it fly by.  I could have spent twice as long with R and will have to console myself with the film during the long wait for the next instalment.

Overall:  There is a lot of dystopian fiction around at the moment but this one really does stand out as one of the more considered and intelligent offerings. If occasionally a little heavy-handed in following the path of the original star-crossed lovers, the story of R and Julie has something to offer even the more weary readers of post-apocalyptic tales 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  26 March 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you, Vintage!
Genre:  YA fiction; Dystopian fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Vintage in October 2010