I was excited to read Handling the Undead after loving John Ajvide Lindqvist’s debut, Let the Right One In. When I found myself back at Books Inc. in Mountain View, CA on a work trip, where I bought Let the Right One In last year, I thought it was only appropriate to buy Lindqvist’s new book.
Whereas Let the Right One In was about a female child vampire, Handling the Undead focuses on “the undead,” or zombies. The book is told from the vantage point of a number of different characters: Elvy, an elderly woman and her granddaughter Flora, Mahler, a middle-aged ex-newspaper reporter and David, a comedian. All of these characters have relatives that passed away within the past two months, and find these relatives now “undead” and in one case, knocking on their front door. The city is in a bit of an uproar as local hospitals and morgues are filled with the undead (though only those that died in the past two months), and the city has to decide what to do with them and whether or not they’re safe to be around. And relatives are having mixed reactions to the undead–some call the police for help while some try to hide the undead from the authorities.
Lindqvist is a great storyteller and writer. It’s not easy to really latch on to a book about vampires, zombies or other supernatural beings, but Lindqvist is able to write in a way that makes the supernatural blend into everyday Sweden and seem oddly normal. The live characters in the book have very real reactions or mixed emotions to their close relatives being undead, considering the undead have trouble speaking and communicating, may appear less life-like than normal or have brown, shrunken skin and smell dead–but are still their loved ones. His ability to mix the real and supernatural is pretty amazing…and very creepy.
The Literary Bunny, another blogger who read this book, told me that Handling the Undead had some incredible scenes…and she was right. One of our favorite scenes was of Mahler trying to dig up his grandson’s coffin in a cemetery–and hearing a rattling sound that turned out to be his grandson’s box of Legos that Mahler had buried with him. And later there’s another creepy scene with Mahler and his daughter, who are stuck on an island with an undead guy who had drowned.
Overall, I thought Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In was stellar and Handling the Undead was a great read, but maybe not quite as good. I’d absolutely read his next novel, Harbor, which just came out this month. As far as horror novel authors go, Lindqvist definitely has my vote.