This review does contain mild spoilers, but will not ruin the novel for you. Read at your own discretion.
What can I say about John Ajvide Lindqvist that hasn't already been said? To put it simply, the man is a genius. Lindqvist delivered us Let The Right One In which was later turned into one of (if not the) greatest vampire film since Dracula, a film that I will personally admit saved my sanity and my life. Let's just say that not reading this book just wasn't a possibility. Handling the Undead is a book that explores the zombie mythos in a direction that I personally have never experienced. From the other reviews I had been skimming before I opened the cover, it seems that one of my favorite attributes was the one that killed it (no pun intended) for them. Lindqvist's zombies don't eat flesh nor brains. We must remember that before Romero, zombies weren't hell bent on eating the living, they just existed. These are the zombies that Lindqvist is bringing us back to. A butterfly beats its wings somewhere in the universe - and an electrical field lowers itself over Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, and causes a piercing headache in everyone as well as making it impossible to turn of any electrical appliances or machines. When the field lifts, something has changed - the recently deceased have come back to life... - and they want to come home. The recently deceased is the best way to put it. The zombies in this novel are somewhat fresh as anything dead longer than two months is unable to rise. These zombies have one main function, using what little impulse memory they still possess and allowing it to guide them home. In my opinion, Lindqvist's lack of feeding frenzies or shots to the head made it quite possibly the most realistic interpretation of an actual zombie outbreak. If you are intending to pick up a book and find yourself engulfed in a world of headshots, blood, screams, and cries of "brains", then you should consider picking a different book. What you will find within the 300 something pages is a story that will force you to reflect on your own life and evaluate the people you cherish the most.
The book follows three different and yet somehow intertwined families. David and his son Magnus lose the mother of the family, Eva when she died in a car accident only a few hours before the dead have risen. This makes Eva the less decomposed of all the zombies and it is because of this that she is seen as a special case for the authorities...especially when she speaks. The second family is athiest/anarchist Flora and her devoutly religious grandmother Elvy, who are visited by Elvy's husband when he returns home after walking out of the morgue. The most painful of the families is that of 6 year old Elias, his mother Anna, grandfather Mahler. Elias died barely two months earlier and Mahler took it upon himself to dig Elias out.
The focus of this story is not of the zombies themselves, but those who are forced to take care of them. If they're not eating people or causing any harm, how can you justify destroying them? The novel explores the different obstacles we are willing to overcome in order to take care of those we love. Much like jellyfish though, they adapt to their surroundings....through thought. This is where I put my foot down and stop spoiling the book, because it's something that needs to be read to understand.
While Handling the Undead is in no way as powerful as Let the Right One In, I almost find it a bit unfair to compare the two, as they are vastly different novels. This book was incredibly interesting and if you have the ability to read it, do so. It's a quick read, but a very different one at that.