I recently completed the novel ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion. The book is soon to be released as a feature film starring Nicholas Hoult (‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ and the BBC show ‘Skins’), Teresa Palmer ('I am Number Four'), and John Malkovich (‘Being John Malkovich’). And surprisingly, for a book that has the praise of Stephanie Meyer, it is a pretty good read.
The story simple and, at the same time, unique. It’s a love story…between a zombie and a human girl. R (he doesn’t remember his name) is a relatively well-preserved zombie with an existential crisis—he begins to ponder his place in the universe and where he belongs. During a raid where he bites—and inherits the memories—of a young man, he falls in love with the young man’s girlfriend. He protects her in his airport home, where a large zombie horde is situated. It’s there that this odd, and very convincing, love story begins.
If you read the above paragraph and chuckled once or twice, good. As you can see, this novel plays with its tongue set firmly in its cheek the entire time. It is never outright funny: there is never a truly intentional joke. But there are humorous moments, amongst typical zombie gore and the slight ‘Twilight’-like style. But the similarities end at the genre.
The characters are full flesh-and-blood (or just rotting flesh) people. R is a remarkable protagonist. His thoughts are good, fluent, never stilted and never awkward. Julie, the love interest of the story, is also a fully-realized human being. Her happiness feels real; her anger feels raw; her conflicting emotions never feel wrong or forced. And we feel and care for both of them—towards the end, when things begin to go wrong, you actually do care about whether these two make it out alive (or unalive). And that’s something that ‘Twilight’ doesn’t even come close to achieving.
There are slight problems with the novel. The storyline lurches sometimes just like a zombie. There are stretches where very little happens: in the beginning, the exposition is plodding but serves a purpose. Then long stretches will be devoted to pointless relived-memories, and in the middle of the book just before R reaches the walled human city, for some reason, it felt like the middle section of ‘Lolita’ all over again with several pages of pointless wandering and nothingness.
A book like this, though a slim and simple affair (it doesn’t even round up to 260 pages), is proof that there is still some originality and hope left for the literary world. This is what ‘Twilight’ could have been, in my opinion, and it’s all because the novel is played with a slightly humorous tone. And just because there is no sense of operatic grace (because even such an epic feeling can be fake, like in ‘Twilight’, and disappoint), just because there is a sense of humor and the author saying ‘I know this is a bit ridiculous, but hear me out’—the strength of characters is what keeps us coming back.
And with this novel, I would have loved another 100 pages, or 200 pages, of zombie love.
Check out the trailer for the film adaption embedded in this article, and here is the ‘Warm Bodies’ IMDB page.