I’ve already reviewed the movie adaptation of World War Z over at my writing blog, so this review will focus on the novel by Max Brooks – the inspiration for the movie.
Most of the tales focused on zombies or the zombie apocalypse focus on a group of characters from various backgrounds and of many different personality types, and the plot of these tales is –for the most part- a linear progression of events in which the reader can also experience the growth of each character.
World War Z – An Oral History of the Zombie War is totally different to almost everything that’s come before – there is no central cast of characters (except for the character we meet in the beginning), and though there is a progression of events, everything is reported after the fact; the story of World War Z is told through a series of interviews conducted with survivors. Now, that might sound a bit boring, but the thing is World War Z isn’t meant to be a ‘Night of the Living Dead’ – it’s a History Channel special. So, if you’re expecting to be pulled into a particular character’s orbit, you’ll be disappointed. This is an event-reporting novel and should be read as such.
Taking that into consideration, World War Z is damned good – if a zombie apocalypse ever hits civilization, I wouldn’t be surprised if world leaders brought this book out and said, “Read this and advise me!”
Max takes a look at so many different aspects of life under the zombie onslaught that it’s impossible to mention everything – organ-trafficking, politics, societal structures, wheelchair-bound people, entertainment, etc. There is a diffuse focus on the military reaction and that of the everyman, but these glimpses come from people of many different walks of life, from many different governments. Even South Africa is mentioned and spotlighted, which was a surprise (and I’m not sure if Max got the details wrong or if the narrator couldn’t pronounce the words properly, but it doesn’t really make a difference).
There is no single thread holding the ‘tale’ together – rather there are multiple pathways that lead the reader through World War Z (or Z-War One); so many different ways of explaining events, from how dog / soldier partners worked trained and worked together to find zombies through to how people working underwater dealt with and protected themselves against zombies that had fallen into the sea.
And, because of the ‘reported’ and ‘documented’ feel of the book, it’s not scary at all. I don’t think Max was going for a ‘scare the hell out of you’ with this book, in any case, but the thing is there was no emotional hanging-on point for me – no tension, no threat to the myriad characters. Again, I don’t think Max was going for that with this novel, but for most readers it’ll probably be difficult to empathize with anyone in the book since there is no central character to ‘live’ the events of the book through. I believe the point of the book is to make it as realistic an exploration of a zombie plague as possible, and in that essence the book is incredible – just don’t expect sleepless nights. 😉
And trust me when on this – your experience of the movie will be totally different to the experience of reading this book; I sincerely hope you enjoy (or enjoyed) both!
8 / 10