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3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
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on 22 February 2014
This takes more effort to read than most zombie novels, but I wouldn't overstate its literary merits. That the author uses 10 words when one would do isn't necessarily a good thing, although there are times when this is appropriate such as creating a sense of nostalgia for times gone by. Overall though I found myself just wishing the story would move on a bit quicker. It wasn't until the end that I found out why that wouldn't have worked -- the plot, such as it is, really doesn't have that 'big ending' or 'big surprise' resolution that I was expecting. There's a reason why phrases such as 'story arc' or 'character development' keep cropping up in writing classes and I think on this evidence the author needs to reassess that aspect of his writing. Nevertheless, this is an interesting and rewarding little book, if you have the patience to get through it. If you can get through the first 10 pages it doesn't really change gear at all so you should be able to read it right through.
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on 3 May 2016
I love a good zombie book, so when this one was recommended to me (at an academic conference of all places) as being a literary take on the genre, I thought I'd give it a try.

I've got to say, after reading it I'm not at all sure that the "literary zombie" works. The first section read as overwritten with far too much description. In fact, this continues throughout the novel (why use one word when eighty will do?) and as a result it gets hard to follow where in the narrative you are with the main character, Mark Spitz. There's an awful lot of introspection/how he got where he was which is mingled with the main action and it can sometimes be hard to follow the train of thought.

That said, after the first third (where I nearly gave up), I started to get it a bit more. This, it seemed to me, is a satire on how we live now (like zombies) - it's all too easy to see yourself as one of the stragglers that Mark Spitz is clearing up. I loved the idea that Mark Spitz had the feeling that optimism (hope for the returning world) would destroy the human race. (At the same academic conference where this was recommended to me, the notion of "cruel optimism" was discussed - the feeling that things will get better when they never do and never will which undoes people).

This was okay as a book - I had to read it in one sitting or I would have given up completely and also lost my thread. It's not the best zombie book I've ever read, but it is a thoughtful one.
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on 19 October 2011
This is one of the best post-apocalypse/zombie/survival novels I've read since last year's The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. Lovely writing captures the dislocation, madness and loneliness of survivors as they try to rebuild their world and come to terms with all they've seen and lost. The story is told over three days in the life of a civilian "sweeper" Mark Spitz with often jarring flashbacks to his life before the plague and during his battle for survival in the wastelands.

If you're looking for page after page of gore then you will be disappointed. This is a strange, smart and haunting book that has a lot to say and it will live in the memory.
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on 12 December 2013
Not often I don't finish a book no matter how dull. But this story just drags. On and on about the characters. The past. The epidemic and yet somehow it never manages to build any of these things convincingly. If you want a post zombie holocaust story look elsewhere. This book is dull as dishwater and an example of someone spending too long on what the characters are thinking when no story is happening. Perhaps in the end the story will begin but I gave up before that point.

Books like Gormenghast can manage a tale where nothing happens, but the language and world built here does simply not support the long dull. When I was a boy running through the field, before the end of the world crap we are fed here. Sorry author but in my opinion this book, it is not very good.
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on 12 March 2014
For summary skip to end

I was looking around the web for decent books of this genre and this one seemed to crop up alot so i thought i'd give it a go and i really wanted to enjoy it.

The truth is i found it dull and rambling and brimming with pointless melancholic reflection and introspective pondering. If you like Zombie/post apocalyptic stories where exciting things happen to characters you want to survive, avoid this like the T-Virus.

Some probably like this kind of thing where the character (who has a stupid name) looks at a door handle then goes off into a whimiscal ten page essay on how his uncle had a door handle once. Then they look out the window and you have to slog through another several pages of the character wistfully musing about some windows they looked through in their childhood. Then when an actual zombie attacts, instead of a bit of action or violence your left reading about how the zombie's clothes vaguley resemble an old teacher of his and have to endure yet more tortured, contemplative drivel.

Forget the walking dead, it was me who needed a pick axe through the skull.

Summary: I didn't like it.
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on 22 May 2014
Set a fair time after survivors of an apocalypse have organised themselves into a military society of sorts, this novel reads more like a Vietnam or Gulf War story than horror. The "soldiers" patrol the streets of New York, clearing out zombies, some who have a condition where they perform a repetitious series of acts which are an echo of their former lives. The survivors don't take these particular "walkers" very seriously, and this turns out badly for one of the main characters. The main male character is known as Mark Spitz, and story behind this sobriquet is revealed fairly late on in the book, as is his pre-sweeper life. Called a literary horror novel mainly because of Whitehead's past work. It is certainly a serious novel, but can be read as a thriller too, with a number of exciting set pieces. Not sure if Whitehead will return to genre writing, but has made a good job it it with this one.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 17 April 2014
The action in this book takes place over three days – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. But the main narration is from the perspective of one man, known these days as Mark Spitz, and he spends an awful lot of time thinking about the old days before The Last Night. This has the unfortunate effect of slowing down the action which is actually taking place right now, in front of him, most of which he is involved in, and his introspective pauses seem to last for an awfully long time, usually when he is being attacked by a ‘hostile’. Unrealistic? Definitely – but there is a germ of a great story hiding in between all the deep thinking.

Mark is one of the crew working their way through Manhattan, cleaning out the last of the ‘skels’ and ‘stragglers’ preparatory to the big plan to rebuild the city; to start to claim back the country. And it is in these situations that we hear his story; what his life had been like, what it could have been like, but never thinking about what the future could hold – living for the next five minutes was one victory at a time. To envisage a future is forbidden.

I kept reading this book because I wanted to know how the story panned out, but I did find the constant to’ing and fro’ing in the timeline made the journey a rather disjointed one. It detracted from the overall impact of what the story could have been, and ultimately the read is a rather disappointing one, largely because of the writing and narrative style. A pity; quite good, but could have been a lot better.
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on 8 October 2013
Was looking forward to this, but almost abandoned it out of boredom 1/3 way through. I picked it up again and was glad I finished.

Everyone knows this is a literary novelist's take on the genre, so it's not a screenplay in disguise. But I really think he should have used a standard device - say, the ticking-clock countdown to an event - to give structure and move the plot along. He even had an event for the countdown, the convention of delegates in zone one, but I only found out about this about half way through and in the meantime had to put up with the random observations and reminiscences of a few undramatic characters during a badly-defined period of three days. Surely if you send a squad of soldiers into the field you have to create an Aliens-style scene that establishes the essence of each character?

The mid-sequence flash-backs have been criticised for implausibility, but for me the confusion they created was most annoying. I had to track back a few times to find my bearings. And I didn't get a great sense of place.

But it is worth it. The pace picks up in the second half, the writing is mostly cool and amusing (some slang that bothered me), and the satire and criticism is good. The reflections on the past lives and the rights of the zombies (skels and stragglers) were good and surprising, and there was a general tone of the futility of the past. And the future? The post-apocalypse utopia turns out to be run by a delusional, wrist-slapping military bureaucracy, a mediocre world for mediocre people: Utopia still means Nowhere, which is different from the survivalist fantasy. Plus the ending has a nice joke about learning to swim.
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on 17 April 2013
I can't believe how refreshing this book is. After many poorly written examples of zombie fiction this book is a welcome change. It's not filled with blood and gore, but I don't see that as a bad thing. It's much more about atmosphere, although there are a few action scenes thrown in to keep the pace up.

The story takes place over three days in New York after a zombie pandemic. We follow a man who is working as a 'sweeper' in part of the operation to clear a walled-off part of the city from the few remaining zombies. The US Marines have already cleared out the violent ones, leaving around 1% of 'stragglers' who just stand around, reinacting some aspect of their former lives.

Most of the story deals with the way that the survivors deal with the aweful things they have seen and done as part of 'post-apocalyptic stress disorder'. Flashback scenes fill in the backstory of the main character to provide some variety. This is written in a style that I haven't encountered before in zombie fiction, but I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 26 July 2014
Initially I was put off by the author's convoluted style but I struggled on and the story about a world overrun by Zombies suddenly leapt, somewhat ironically, to life. Both the characters and the world they inhabit are so well drawn and with such a biting wit, that it easily escapes the usual stereotypical zombie, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel yet still retains all the expected conventions. With an ending that stays with you long after the book has been put down, this easily earns its 4 stars.
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