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Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion


I finished Warm Bodies about a week or so ago and it's been shuffling, zombie like, around my head ever since. As is probably evident, I've not read very many zombie novels. No special prejudice against them. I just haven't run across many that called out to me. This one did. It started with the cover. This may very well be my favorite new cover of the year. I simply love everything about it. I actually think it represents the novel decidedly well, which is so often a rare occurrence. I love the figure's stance. I love the blood twisting out behind him like a demented superhero cape. And I love the sweep and the scope of it. This is my first foray into Isaac Marion's work and I find myself suitably impressed. It came with a slew of blurbs from authors in high places, but I accepted a review pitch based on a simple gut feeling that herein might be something different. That and the fact that The Guardian called it a "slacker-zombie novel with a heart." Just made me smile, you know?


R is a zombie. A fairly recent one. At least he thinks so. He's not really sure of anything anymore. And he doesn't have much to go on beyond the fact that he's somewhat less decayed than many of his other zombie pals, and he remembers the first letter of his name. That's about all that remains from his former life. Now his days are filled up with shuffling around the abandoned airport in which his group of undead spend their downtime, going out on regular hunts to bring back food, and sitting around grunting ineffectually with the closest thing he has to a friend--another zombie named M. Sometimes he feels a hint of something, he's not sure what. A whiff of what he was before. A vague inclination to wonder what life was like and how he wound up the way he is now. Then, a shift. While tearing his way through a passel of humans, he stops before killing one of them. Something inside forces him to stop and, instead of devouring her brains per usual, he takes her home and shields her from the other zombies and their insatiable hunger. Having just eaten her boyfriend, R is filled with uncertainty and confusion. All he knows is Julie is different and he doesn't want to eat her. And, with that one unlikely decision, the world begins to change.


This is a beautiful novel. Thoughtful and meandering, it took all of about 20 pages to work its way into my system, and I remained plugged in, as it were, to the final page. Twenty pages in is where I encountered a scene so perfect, I knew I wasn't going to stand a chance against the whole. For your enjoyment (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Gripping Julie's hand, I hurry her away from their probing eyes. I lead her to Gate 12, down the boarding tunnel and into my home: a 747 commercial jet. It's not very spacious, the floor plan is impractical, but it's the most isolated place in the airport and I enjoy the privacy. Sometimes it even tickles my numb memory. Looking at my clothes, I seem like the kind of person who probably traveled a lot. Sometimes when I "sleep" here, I feel the faint rising sensation of flight, the blasts of recycled air blowing in my face, the soggy nausea of packaged sandwiches. And then the fresh lemon zing of poisson in Paris. The burn of tajine in Morocco. Are these places all gone now? Silent streets, cafes full of dusty skeletons?

Julie and I stand in the center aisle, looking at each other. I point to a window seat and raise my eyebrows. Keeping her eyes solidly on me, she backs into the row and sits down. Her hands grip the armrests like the plane is in a flaming death dive.

I sit in the aisle seat and release an involuntary wheeze, looking straight ahead at my stacks of memorabilia. Every time I go into the city, I bring back one thing that catches my eye. A puzzle. A shot glass. A Barbie. A dildo. Flowers. Magazines. Books. I bring them here to my home, strew them around the seats and aisles, and stare at them for hours. The piles reach to the ceiling now. M keeps asking me why I do this. I have no answer.

"Not . . . eat," I groan at Julie, looking her in the eyes. "I . . . won't eat."

She stares at me. Her lips are tight and pale.

I point at her. I open my mouth and point at my crooked, blood-stained teeth. I shake my head. She presses herself against the window. A terrified whimper rises in her throat. This is not working.

"Safe," I tell her, letting out a sigh. "Keep . . . you safe."

I stand up and go to my record player. I dig through my LP collection in the overhead compartments and pull out an album. I take the headphones back to my seat and place the big metal cans on Julie's ears. She is still frozen, wide-eyed.

The record plays. It's Frank Sinatra. I can hear it faintly through the headphones, like a distant eulogy drifting on autumn air.

Last night . . . when we were young . . .

I close my eyes and hunch forward. My head sways vaguely in time with the music as verses float through the jet cabin, blending together in my ears.

Life was so new . . . so real, so right . . .

"Safe," I mumble. "Keep you . . . safe."

. . . ages ago . . . last night . . .

When my eyes finally open, Julie's face has changed. The terror has faded, and she regards me with disbelief.

"What are you?" she whispers.
I don't know. I just fell in love at that point. Like R's gentle, weary exhalations, I drifted my way along the wave of his experiences. Fascinated by the loosely but disturbingly organized zombie culture, and the quiet, almost imperceptible changes R makes once he encounters Julie, I just wanted to trail along to see the outcome of this unorthodox connection. Of course, there's quite a bit more to the post-apocalyptic world than first meets the eye. Humans are barely holding out, and the world has changed dramatically from anything you might recognize. But the elusive memory of humanity is what links these two characters. And it's what fuels their interactions from start to finish. I will say that I had a little difficulty with the conclusion. The overarching metaphor got a bit heavy-handed for me, and I found myself wishing the focus has stayed smaller. My problem was I liked R so much, I wanted things to stay tightly focused on his personal journey. I understand that it was inextricably tied up with the greater problem, and I understand what Isaac Marion was trying to do with his prose, and I commend it. I just felt the loss of the intimate and got a little lost in the grandeur of the ultimate crisis. I also wish Julie had been just a bit more developed. Like quicksilver, she kept slipping out of my grasp. But the quiet, insightful writing really impressed me, and overall, I felt rewarded and oddly touched after finishing Warm Bodies. It stuck with me long after finishing it, and I'm very much looking forward to Mr. Marion's next book. I'll leave you with another favorite passage, representative of R's haunting sense of loss:
Sex, once a law as undisputed as gravity, has been disproved. The equation erased, the backboard broken.

 
Sometimes it’s a relief. I remember the need, the insatiable hunger that ruled my life and the lives of everyone around me. Sometimes I’m glad to be free of it. There’s less trouble now. But our loss of this, the most basic of all human passions, might sum up our loss of everything else. It’s made things quieter. Simpler. And it’s one of the surest signs that we’re dead.
A worthy and entertaining debut. Warm Bodies will be released in U.S. hardcover on April 26th. 
Linkage
Book Chick City Review
Bookshelf Lust Review
Booksquawk! Review
Feeling Fictional Review
Medieval Bookworm Review
My Favourite Books Review
Read Sam Read Review

Comments

  1. Ah! I'm not surprised you loved this one -- I ADORED it beyond reason.

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  2. I loved this one too! And you chose to quote one of the same passages I did, that second one - it's such a powerful book, and such an unexpected one. I'm with you on looking forward to Marion's next book!

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  3. You sold me on this book! Please don't tell me R ends up eating Julie in the end.

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  4. I hadn't even heard of this, but you're right...the cover is amazing and I will definitely be checking it out now. Thanks!

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  5. I saw Maggie Stiefvater's post on this one and immediately added it to my library reserve list. Reading your thoughts on it makes me wonder if I shouldn't just buy it instead. That first excerpt...yeah.

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  6. This is a great summary. Thanks for the great post.

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  7. This sounds really moving! Will look out for it over here.

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  8. Wow. I too can't really find much to get excited about in zombie books so have pretty much stayed away from the entire genre. But this one... hmmm... I'm thinking it gets a green light.

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  9. thanks for your thoughts on this. i plan on reading it!

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  10. This is the second amazing review I've read of this one, it sounds wonderful. I'm really intrigued both by the story and to see how the story is told.

    Also I agree on the cover - gorgeous!

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  11. I haven't read any zombie books before but this one sounds intersting. I just may have to read it.

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  12. Anonymous10:40 PM

    I'm in the process of reading this book. I was hooked after the first 10 pages! I love your comments about the cover. It's a real piece of art and I'd never thought of the blood as a 'demented superhero cape' :)

    ReplyDelete

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