Archive Review – “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion

Review first published 30/12/12

Warm Bodies

From Goodreads:

‘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…

Awwww, who would have thought that the end of the world by virtue of a zombie apocalypse would be the setting for such a well written romantic book.  Yes, I said romantic book.

“Warm Bodies” is written from the perspective of lead character “R” (he’s only ever known as this due to the fact that zombies can’t recall their full names) and for a zombie, he’s a pretty thoughtful and sensitive soul… well, as sensitive a soul can be without a soul as such.  He starts off as your typical zombie – human flesh and brains for dinner, that sort of thing – with the added luxury of his own 747 jet to live on, a great record collection and a nice little zombie family.

During a hunt, “R” meets Julie, a living, breathing human woman, and he makes his first conscious decision since joining the ranks of the Dead to spare her life rather than follow his instincts and have her as his evening dinner.  From this starts a domino effect which sees “R” wanting to evolve beyond his narrow nature as a zombie and return to the ranks of the Living.

Throughout the book, “R”‘s internal monologue is that of a chatty, young fellow (we never know his true age, but it is pitched around the twenties/thirties).  We find out that the Dead have a society of sorts – including church, school and a political system with the Bonies, who have had all of their flesh stripped away, in charge of Dead society and, for want of a better phrase, Dead propaganda.

Once he meets Julie, the reader witnesses “R”‘s learning curve from zombie flesh eater into an aspiring human – such as his gradual self education in sentence structure where he keeps surprising himself when he breaks his own record for the amount of syllables that he is able to speak without halting.  In addition to this, you also get to see from “R”‘s perspective the reason why zombies like to eat brains which culminates as being part of the catalyst for his quest to become human.

Julie is equally well written as a character as you get to see her from two perspectives – the current one with “R” and a past life as witnessed by “R” in visions.  Her storyline, although predictable – woman captured by zombie, woman looked after by zombie, woman wants to escape, woman makes friends with and wants to help zombie reform – is no less engaging than “R”‘s own.  As you read the novel, it’s logical that both characters gravitate to one another as they are both victims of the world they exist in – “R” by the plague that’s infected him and Julie through the relationships, or lack of, with her father and her boyfriend, Perry.

Both leads get a single main supporting character.  In “R”‘s case, it’s “M” – a zombie who would have quite an eye for the ladies, if it weren’t for the fact he was Dead.  In Julie’s case, it’s Nora – her best friend and fellow survivor of the hunt which sees “R” rescuing Julie.  Both of these supporting characters fall into the traditional best friend and confidant role with “M” helping “R” and Julie escape the airport Hive in which “R” normally lives and Nora helping Julie to keep “R” a secret from the authorities when he breaks into their community to see Julie again.

A few reviewers have mentioned the similarity between “R” and Julie and a certain pair of star-crossed lovers penned by a certain Mr Shakespeare, and I’d echo that – even to the point of where the young lovers risk all towards the end of the book, but there do seem to be elements from other works of fiction involved in this novel.  The most obvious one are the “Dead” films of George Romero and even the romance/friendship element of “Shaun Of The Dead”, but there are also hints of Pinocchio or Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” throughout the story as “R” wants something more than his humdrum life of wandering around his airport home and participating in hunts – in effect, “R” wants to stop being Dead and be a “real boy”.

The book poses the question of whether the Living survivors, led by Julie’s father General Grigio, are as unworthy of survival as the Dead.  Both have to exist off a primary food source which simply allows them to exist rather than Live – the Dead with living flesh and brains and the Living with their Carbtein substitute, both the Fleshies and the Living are ruled over by a single minded leadership structure – embodied by the Bonies and Grigio – that the other side should be completely wiped out.

But, as in the case of all good books, “Warm Bodies” also poses a question that is reflected in our real lives.  Are we, in our indolent and wasteful lifestyles, at risk of becoming as stagnant a society as the Dead or their supposedly Living counterparts?  (Albeit without the risk of hordes of the Dead on our doorsteps).

“Warm Bodies” is a great book which has emotional and thoughtful writing at it’s core with a great tempo which fits in time for the reader to get caught up in the action whilst allowing the reader time to pause for breath and reflect in the characters and philosophical points made.

With luck, more of Mr Marion’s books are made available in the UK and I’m certainly looking forward to the release of the cinematic adaptation of this book in February.

Rating:4/5

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