It’s not often you can say you’re reading a book because of a conversation you had with your brother over Christmas about how you would survive the Zombie Apocalypse. (If you’re curious, we decided that for long term survival a katana would be the weapon of choice). I was making the argument that why would you want to be the last human on earth? Pulling in themes from I am Legend (the book), I argued that I saw no point in fighting for the remnants of humanity when, even if a handful were to survive for a short period, ultimately in a pandemic of zombieism, the monsters would win and become the norm. Surely, I said, the worst thing about becoming a zombie was loosing all sense of self afterward? A zombie with a brain now…
Brother Dearest mentioned a book he half remembered. I googled “zombie retain consciousness” and got to Monster Island:
Monster Island by David Wellington
Pages: 378 (paperback)
Published: 1 May 2007
As the shambling zombie masses cover the globe, advanced nations quickly succumb to the feeding frenzy. Complacent first-world citizens are no match for the mindless, fearless undead. Civilization’s only hope rests in war zones like Somalia, where fighting for survival is the norm.
From this quarter emerges an unlikely group of heroes. A small army of girl warriors are crossing the world to find the supplies necessary for their survival. They are guided by Dekalb, a former UN inspector, chosen for his knowledge of America.
The zombie plague has taken out this once-powerful nation, and the insatiable undead now fill the streets of New York City. One amongst them is different. Though driven by the same hunger, his mind is alive, and he’s discovering the advantages this difference can bring. Dekalb will soon learn that if there’s anything more dangerous than a flesh-hungry zombie, it’s one with a plan.
Dig a little deeper on the web and it turns out that Monster Island was first written as a serial novel in blog-format. This shows in the writing from the start, where the chapters are short, as are the sentences. The action starts from the first page, as the Statue of Liberty looms through the fog, and it continues pretty much unabated till the final page. It’s clearly written to be read on the web and on the screen, grabbing your attention and never straying too far from the styalistic path. It would be rather two-faced of me, a blogger, to take issue with this style, so I’m not going to take issue with it.
Apart from the fact I don’t like how it translates to the printed page and book-form.
The book grated on me pretty quickly and kept grating upto the last page. I found the flat two POV narration irritating, with the constant flip-flopping between Dekalb and Gary jarring. All the time as I was reading and jumping from one crisis to the next I had a niggling desire in the back of my mind for more flesh on the narrative bone. Give me some characterisation, I pleaded. A plot-twist you don’t see coming from the first page. A chapter longer than seven sides – yes, I counted. The longest is the final chapter which wraps everything up, and even that’s only eight sides long. Perhaps I’m jealous? Brevity is a technique I’ve never mastered and it does have it’s place, but to me the constant flipping between narrative voices and action simply meant I never fully got into the story. It read like a modern music video: styalistic, dramatically shot and fast cut; all flashing lights and swooping camera angles, with scantily clad beauties and a thomping tune to distract you from the lack of content.
Still, I enjoyed it. I loved the concept of intelligent zombies. The most convincing section of the book was the section which detailed (all to briefly) the spiraling collapse of civilization. Moments of brilliance shone through the book and one of the main supporting cast, Ayaan the gun-toting school girl, was touchingly drawn. It kept me entertained through two hours of having my hair cut/coloured. I wanted to get to the end to find out what happened (I’d guessed correctly). I even felt a little sad that I had reached the end and that certain characters met the fate that they did.
Would I recommend Monster Island?
Probably not. It’s telling that there are two other books in the sequence (Monster Nation and Monster Planet) and that I don’t want to read either of them. It’s also telling that I’m probably not going to pick the book up again any time soon for a re-read. I don’t begrudge the money I spent on the book exactly, but looking back I’d rather have read it in it’s free form off the web.
Two mugs of tea and a biscuit – bits of the book were good and I appreciate it for the authors experimentation with the free-web/pay-print model, but on the whole I think I’ll give the zombie genre a miss for a while. Shuffling undead work on the screen but it takes a better author than Wellington to make them scary on the page.
PS: The Amazon links Iâ€™m using here affiliate links. All I get out of these reviews is the joy/horror of reading new books and sharing them with you 🙂