Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
April 26, 2011; Atria
*Book provided free for honest review
A zombie who yearns for a better life ends up falling in love—with a human—in this astonishingly original debut novel.
R is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He doesn’t enjoy killing people; he enjoys riding escalators and listening to Frank Sinatra. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.
Not just another zombie novel, Warm Bodies is funny, scary, and deeply moving. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Warm Bodies is my first zombie book. If you're a fan of zombie books, Warm Bodies is definitely something to pick up. If you're not a fan of zombie books, don't pass this by. While the book doesn't skimp on the violence of zombie appetites, its most prominent features are beautiful prose, thought provoking philosophical questions, and a subtle, sweet love story.
Our hero, R, is a zombie. He can't remember how long he's been a zombie, what he did as a human, or even his name (aside from his first initial). He is more verbal and self-aware than most other zombies, but he still spends his life in a trance. He lives with a large group of zombies in an abandoned airport. They try to recreate their human lives to some degree. There are schools for children, churches, marriages, etc. The zombies really don't understand what they're doing, but some subconscious part of their mind craves the structure of a human life. Some zombies are not verbal at all while others like R can speak in halting, simple sentences. They spend most of their time groaning and shrugging.
There's plenty of death in Warm Bodies. R describes in great detail hunting humans and devouring their brains. Zombies don't need to eat brains, but they're drawn to them. When they consume a brain, they relive the person's life and memories - the zombies get to be alive for a short time. It's addicting. R goes on a hunting run and eats a teenaged boy name Perry. Perry's memories are particularly strong and become all consuming for R. He instinctively saves Julie from the other zombies and takes her back to his home at the zombies' airport.
Julie definitely does not fall instantly in love with R. She fears him, for one thing, but mostly she's angry. Julie has had a hard life. Her mother died when she was fairly young and her general father thinks only of security and fighting. Julie is hardened and quick to lash out. R is almost the exact opposite. Extremely patient. Protective. Slow to anger. While he basically holds Julie hostage, they form a reluctant friendship and then a stronger attachment. Their relationship is sweet. I love how R calmed Julie down and helped heal her in a way, while Julie showed R how to be more than a shrugging, groaning zombie.
What really sets Warm Bodies apart are the characters' thoughts. Both Julie and R have a tendency to pontificate about the meaning of life, the zombie curse, and the idea of love. I love how the author set out so many different ideas to ponder. Here's a little taste:
[Julie is looking through R's record collection]
"'There's nothing in here newer than like...1999. Is that when you died or something? ... Why the stunted musical growth?'
I start to shrug and then stop myself, with some difficulty. How can I possibly explain this to her in words? The slow death of Quixote. The abandoning of quests, the surrendering of desires, the settling in and settling down that is the inevitable fate of the Dead.
"'We don't...think...new things,' I begin, straining to kick through my short-sheeted diction....
'You don't think about new things? You don't 'seek'? What's that even mean? You don't seek what? Music? Music is life? It's physical emotion - you can touch it! It's neon ecto-energy sucked out of spirits and switched into sound waves for your ears to swallow.'" (p. 53-54)
The book is worth reading for no other reason than a philosophical exercise.
My main problem with this book is that so many things are not explained well. The zombie lifestyle is explained thoroughly and clearly. That was fascinating. What was lacking was the explanation of why the zombies existed in the first place. It says that there was some kind of curse, but it was basically left at that. Highly incomplete. Also, why are there so few humans? Is it just because the zombies have killed them or have they killed each other? How long has this been going on? The book indicates that things have gotten really bad in the last few years, but it also implies that zombies have been around for at least 50 or 60 years. I think the book would have benefited from a few pages of background slipped in throughout the story.
Despite a few world-building flaws, Warm Bodies is a lovely, thoughtful story. It is ultimately a romance between two unlikely beings, but it is also a book to read when you are in the mood to stop and think about the greater things in life.