Thursday, October 20, 2011

Zone One

Last night I watched the last fifteen minutes of an episode of The Walking Dead, where an angry man punches a big bloke in the face a lot while some women scream. That wasn't very edifying, and there was hardly a zombie to be seen. I wasn't too bothered: I had a copy of Zone One to read, an utterly fantastic zombie story by Colson Whitehead.

At least, it seems like a zombie story. Perhaps it's really a tribute to New York; the whole thing reads a little like a perverse travelogue, describing so many wonderful parts of New York and then filling them with shambling corpses. (Unlike Connecticut, which is just utterly damnable.)

I've read a few reviews that say there's not much action and it's more of a literary exercise, but that seemed to me like a misapprehension. Sure, it wasn't four hundred pages of a man called Bob decapitating zombies with a chainsaw, but there was certainly enough excitement. Just because violence is described with a rich and varied vocabulary, that doesn't mean it fails to scare or excite. Come to think of it, you'd think people would expect a book written by somebody in love with the English language to be more effective, not less, wouldn't you?

Throughout, Whitehead utilises most of the tropes of the zombie genre, but it feels sincerely. It may satirise modern life, but it's not a satire of zombie films. Perhaps it's a metaphor for September 11. Perhaps it's a metaphor for materialism, or social media, or just the way people follow mindless routines. Perhaps it's a metaphor for the inescapability of death.

Whatever it is, it was the terrific, eminently readable sort of book that kept me up until 1:30am, and then made me late for work (just one more page!) this morning.

Obviously it doesn't end well - what zombie stories ever do? The destination, however, isn't as important as the journey. Everyone dies, but the life you take, even one full of nested flashbacks, oral sex as death, modern life as death, death as death, is still important - getting there is more important than where there is.

I went for a run this evening. There's no zombies in Singapore. Actually, after the run, I went had drank four pints. Maybe there will be zombies in Singapore tomorrow.


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