Monday, April 2, 2018

The Reliving

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s thriller, Handling the Undead, opens during an intense heat wave in Sweden. Stricken by headaches, people are unable to turn off anything that runs on electricity. Just when they reach their breaking point, the heat subsides and anyone who died within the past two months comes back to life, but they are nothing like the undead that most zombie fans expect. This novel is less about the undead and more about people’s reactions to having their loved ones become “the reliving.”

The story is told through the emotions and experiences of three families: one that loses a grandfather, one that loses a mother, and one that loses a little boy. Readers are shown the intimate details of their lives before everything is turned upside-down, making it easier to empathize with the unimaginable decisions each family must make. While the reliving do not crave flesh, they do emit a psychic field that allows the living to hear all thoughts, something that becomes even more unbearable than seeing loved ones in a state of decay. The Swedish government decides it would be best to set up a housing area apart from the rest of society that is strictly for the reliving.

I wouldn’t call this a horror story. Handling the Undead is more like a suspense novel packed with supernatural events and theological commentary about the way societies and cultures view death and the afterlife. The relationships between the living and the reliving are thick with psychology but the novel still moves at a decent pace as the story builds the strange events, describing the settings with a mix of drama and dialogue. Unfortunately, I was three-quarters into the book before there was any real action. Anyone expecting blood and gore will be disappointed but the ending will leave you thinking about the social implications of immortality for a long time.

As always,

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