Sunday, 25 September 2011

Book #83 World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z

What's that you say?? A Zombie Apocalypse novel you say?? A Zombie Apocalypse novel currently being turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt indeed?? Why, Waterstones, I really don't mind if I do.......

I think those people who know me well and who know the stuff I read in both this year and in other years are probably amused and possibly bemused by my guilty pleasure and attraction to this sort of "trashy novel" but one can't read Booker winners all the time. In any case World War Z isn't trashy,  far from it. It takes its subject matter very seriously in fact it does not acknowledge its classification as a fiction. This is a historical document, a retrospective, an eyewitness account from those who survived!

I love the fact that the blurb of the novel backs this stance up with the following description of the author :

Max Brooks lives in New York City but is prepared to move to a more remote and defensible location at a moment's notice  

It really adds something to the book, the seriousness, this book isn't tongue in cheek or playing for laughs. It takes as its premise that in the recent past humans actually fought for global survival against zombies, and that World War Z isn't quite over yet.

It is constructed entirely through interviews "conducted by Max Brooks" in various parts of the globe chronicling the build up to and commencement of the war. Naturally Brooks begins in China, because this is where the first breakout was recorded, with a doctor who has been called to a remote village and does not know what to make of what he finds there. A boy who was swimming in deep water has been infected with something, he has bitten several other villagers who now show signs of this infection. Though the government tries to hush it up, the contagion spreads. The problem becomes global when as refugees stream out of China trying to escape several take the infection with them, believing that the West will have a solution. As soon as the human becomes zombie they are then an immediate threat to all surrounding humans, and the only way to kill them is a bullet or an axe to the head, so as their population grows, the human population shrinks. As opposed to focusing on a small band of humans who we get to know by name and are all in the same location, Brooks jumps from location to location and interviewee to interviewee, one moment he's in China, the next India or Russia although the USA gets a lot of attention. By doing this he succeeds in creating the portrait of a global problem and of building haunting images of nightmarish scenarios from the families trapped in traffic jams as Zombies attack them, to the celebrities who find that celebrity is meaningless now, to the Indian man who swims for his life to a boat, and watches other boats become floating vessels of the undead. Terrifying, new underpants terrifying.

One of my favourite aspects of this novel was the way in which set in a post Zombie future the global political and sociological landscape has changed. Palestine is now a nation state. Cuba, which largely survived unscathed, a wealthy envied nation. Although a Zombie Apocalypse is unlikely, the Chinese outbreak in the novel is compared to the recent SARS and Avian flu, without involving zombies a pandemic of this kind COULD cause a global panic on this scale. Its not entirely implausible, and when at one moment I found myself reading it as if it were non fiction, part of me had to laugh at myself and part of me considered the possibilities. 

Were I liked the book less was in the amount of military strategy and soldier stories when war has broken out, I much preferred the stories of ordinary people trying to survive. But I think the average player of Call Of Duty or Dead Island style video games would enjoy this aspect.

I feel, however that this novel based on its interview form, is virtually unfilmable in terms of "doing it justice". Though Brad Pitt and Mirelle Enos have been charging round Cornwall and Glasgow, this isn't a character novel, its a jigsaw novel with no focus on any person or country. My fear is that World War Z the movie will unlike this clever novel, become your average Hollywood shoot em up, without originality and with leads who are paint-by-numbers characters you find in any action film. Brad Pitt, for the most part shows more savvy than that when choosing scripts, so I hope not, but it could be that he was just looking for some straightforward Zombie slaying action. Well, who wouldn't given the chance? I know I'd be up for it. 8/10 


  1. The Zombie Survival Guide is also available, not as good as WWZ

  2. It has just occured to me that the film will likely be referred to as World War Zee upon release this displeases me.