– By Rob
Zombies have been around since the dawn of time: from Haitian religious voodoo nonsense to their most notable introduction to the cultural psyche of cinema-goers with Night Of The Living Dead and beyond (there were zombie films prior to this, of course, but until that point none had had anything like the impact of Mr Romero’s presentation) , to sit among the top level of horror film iconic baddies. They have even been used to attune our social awareness, with racism & commercialism being addressed in “Night” & “Dawn”. But absolutely always, zombies have been portrayed as the bad-guy. Mostly brained with a myriad of weapons, shot, blown up, set on fire, beheaded, villified, hated, feared and mocked – as with 99% of baddies, it never ends well for the zombie. Of course, it’s very difficult to have any sympathy for a stinking bag of murderous bones, who’s only raison d’etre is to crack open your skull and scoop out your brains for their tea. I’ve mentioned in a previous article though, I’ve always considered the zombies to be as much the victim of the situation as their fleeing & terrified “meals”. Whether by viral infection, genetic mutation/modification or religious summoning (these seem to be the main method of zombing someone. And “zombing” is now a verb), these poor bastards never chose to join the cannibalistic undead.
Adam Booth has now given us a zombie book with the narrative purely from the first-person perspective of Zoe, a hardworking mum racing to meet her daughter from the train station. It’s at the station that’s she’s attacked inevitably dies, only to return as undead.
The most intriguing and spectacularly useful device for the reader is that Zoe retains her human intelligence & articulation, from the point of view of her internal monologue. This give us an extraordinary commentary on her attack and death, and subsequent transition from a harrassed and beleaguered working mum to a stumbling, decaying & ravenous monster.
There’s many physical changes that are detailed but it’s the emotional processing of this tragedy that’s utterly captivating. Hand in metaphorical hand, we take each new step with Zoe as she realises and comprehends with hyper-awareness not only her own death but also what she has now become. The thirsts & hunger of the zombie are put into a human context and it’s alarming as a reader to feels the first needles of empathy towards a creature we’re almost conditioned to fear and despise. The most poignant aspect is Zoe can feel her humanity, the very essence of herself, dwindling away – to be replaced with the single-minded drive of a hunting animal. Without thought or question, instinctively she bites, tears, chomps and gobbles through person after person. As she loses her humanity, so do her victims as they become just another chunk of nourishment. It’s Zoe’s awareness of this that becomes achingly mournful, almost unbearable for the reader to witness at times.
Adam M Booth has given us a horror novella of genuine intelligence with masterful narration but without straying too far from familiar territory. The change of paradigm & perspective is thought-provoking and compelling but ultimately The End is an observation of loss and the arbitrary unfairness of life and, in this case, undeath.