13342065What’s it all about?

The world has been devastated by a virus which has turned the huge majority of the population into *gasp* zombies. However, time has passed and the survivors have fought back and stabilised areas of the USA and have optimistically started to rebuild civilisation (as far as they can anyway). The book follows our main character, known only by his nickname Mark Spitz, over three days in Zone One (Manhattan) as he and his small unit sweep up straggling zombies so that the island can be re-inhabited.

Why did I want to read it?

I’m in  bit of a zombie kick at the moment, plus I’m pretty sure I saw this favourably reviewed in a blog that I can’t remember (I really must get better at recording recommendations from other bloggers so they can be properly acknowledged) and was keen to give it a go as it sounded a bit different.

What did I think of it?

I thought this was a really well-written and affecting novel of the zombie apocalypse. I liked the structure, split over the three days of single weekend where we got to know the characters, how they are doing now and just as importantly how they got here. Flashbacks are used effectively to describe the suddenness of the epidemic, and how devastating it was for individuals. For example Mark Spitz comes home from a weekend away with his friend to find his infected mother attacking his father and just has to make a run for it. I liked the fact that not all of the survivors are the ones you would obviously think would make it. And the story of how Mark Spitz got his nickname is great.

My only quibble isn’t with the book or the author Colson Whitehead, whom I wasn’t at all aware of (my knowledge of contemporary US mainstream fiction is patchy at best to my shame), but rather with the critical reaction to it. As I’ve said I thought this was really well written, a strong story with an interesting approach to a staple of the horror genre but a number of the reviews I read talk a lot about the marrying of genre and literary fiction, because Whitehead has won a Pulitzer prize and that somehow makes his approach to the subject matter more valid and of greater value than more obviously genre authors (to some commentators at least).

And perhaps it’s just my own sensitivity but I get annoyed at the idea that it’s OK to like genre fiction as long as it is written by someone who is a mainstream author, so we can all pretend it isn’t really genre fiction at all but using tropes to talk about something else, as if that isn’t what genre and speculative fiction does anyway.

But, climbing down from my soapbox, you should give Zone One a try, it’s a really good take on what happens when you think you’ve overcome the zombie hordes and worth reading.