“Viktor had been very sad about their grandfather’s death, but Flora had intuited that it was less the person he grieved for than the fact of death itself. Death meant that people actually disappeared. That everyone was going to disappear”
Something strange is happening in Stockholm, there is an oppressive heatwave, electrical problems and persistent headaches no one seems able to get rid of. When these mysterious occurrences end, something has changed - the recently deceased or the ‘reliving’ leave the funeral homes, morgues and even their own graves trying to make their way back home. This is the premise for John Ajvide Lindqvist sophmore novel “Handling the Undead” which is a unique nod to the zombie genre, exploring the limits and desperation of love.
Much like his first novel “Let the Right One In”, “Handling” is an intelligent and philosophical look at what happens when the dead come back to life. Focusing not only on the reactions of the family but also looking at how the government and medical professionals handle this unusual situation.
Lindqvist uses the backdrop of the recently deceased coming back to explore the depths of the human soul. Showing to what great lengths families will go to stay together, but also how unprepared and fallible family and government officials can act when faced with a major crisis.
The emotional core of the story focuses on Elvy and Flora (whose grandfather and husband has just died), Mahler and his daughter who has lost their son, and finally David who mere hours before the dead re-awaken lost his wife Eva in a horrific car crash. These stories feel like a breath of fresh air compared to wave of survivalist zombie movies, television programmes, books and video games that have come out in recent years.
The horror does not come from the zombies wanting to eat human brains, but rather the psychological horror and toll it puts on the living experiencing life among the newly arisen dead. Lindqvist deftly lets his reader experience our relationship to death, and various ways of handling it; from denial, anger, suicide, sadness, religious fervor, and finally government intervention.
Luckily for us John Ajvide Lindqvist continues the story of “Handling the Undead” in a book of shorts called Pappersväggar, which I am dead excited to get my hands on. Lindqvist proves yet again, his amazing skill of turning a typical horror genre on its head and making it so much more complex, and interesting for the reader. The book fills you at equal turns with revulsion and hope. While the book is never truly scary it makes you wonder how one would react if the dead were to come back among the living.