Zone One by Colson Whitehead

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Zone One by Colson Whitehead

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Category: Horror
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very complex world for this novel, considering it concerns a zombie-bashing grunt and his life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846555985

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To start, for once, with the book's style - this has probably the least dialogue of any book you'll read this year. There are some comments from characters, but they're few and far between - as are those characters that can actually speak. For we're in a devastated New York, later this century, and our three main protagonists are cleaning up after a worldwide plague of zombies. The active ones have mostly been gunned down by the military, but there are a few still locked away in hidden corners - as well as inactive ones, called stragglers, who seem stuck in one instant, whether finishing off their last office job for the millionth time, or like a ghost haunting a place relevant to them.

As usual there's a beat or three as to why we ended up having an inexplicable outbreak of disease turning most of mankind this way - comeuppance for a flatlined culture for one - but on the whole we're looking at the hero, 'Mark Spitz', and co. And between looking at the world we're currently in, with all its new terminology that is slowly drip-dripped into our understanding, we have an almighty look at 'Mark Spitz' and his life. There are a host of relevant flashbacks as we learn what took the character from ambling round several jobs, including being the voice of a coffee franchise on a social network, to discovering the plague's initial outbreak, to surviving this far and entering such a new career.

So don't think this volume is an average zombie actioner. It's far from it. There are a few instances of killing zombies, as seen from our hero's POV, but beyond that things are much more literary. The vocabulary and style are far from mainstream. One character is likened to a Rachel-from-Friends wannabe - The youngest one wore its hair in a style popularized by a sitcom that took as its subject three roommates of seemingly immiscible temperaments and their attempts to make their fortune in this contusing city. Yes, but can it be killed, some will ask.

Which all means that we have a fully realised world, and far from just gung-ho activity, we gain insight into the world Whitehead has created for himself. You can easily find a metaphor in the stragglers and their braindead sticking with a part of life that is easily dismissed when there's a proper, newly active world to re-establish. The post-apocalyptic USA is a mix of collective farms, trying to revive the corn crops, and a military sponsored by official brands, meaning none other can even be looted. This definition of a society that is clearly an ironic look at our own makes me suggest this is very much in the vein of, and I think for that audience this could well be a break-out title. To its detriment is the very New York-ness of it, meaning it might not travel across the pond so successfully, and perhaps the world is a little too insular, meditative and fulfilled by lengthy flashback after all.

A very different look at North American zombies can be had with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith, or perhaps with the series I first met with Half the Blood of Brooklyn (Joe Pitt Novel) by Charlie Huston.

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Buy Zone One by Colson Whitehead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Zone One by Colson Whitehead at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Zone One by Colson Whitehead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Zone One by Colson Whitehead at


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