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An original take on the zombie novel which falls short of greatness
on 13 April 2013
World War Z is a highly original take on the zombie novel as it tells its story through a series of interviews with a variety of people who tell their stories of what happened both before, during, and after the zombie outbreak. There is a large range of characters, from military personnel to a blind Japanese gardener.
The advantage of this book is that it allows this somewhat cliched story of the zombie apocalypse to be told with a lot more depth and detail. Telling the story from the perspective of one or a few main characters (as most do) inherently restricts the scope of stories like this because you can never get a full picture. That isn't usually a bad thing, but World War Z really stands out because it deals with the zombie outbreak on a global scale from its origins right through to how the world looks far into the future. Contrasting the approaches and events in different countries really adds a richness to the story that makes it inherently interesting to read.
This approach also allows Brooks to build in key events that you wouldn't normally expect from a book of this nature. These include things like main battles between the armed forces and the zombies, as well as discussion of controversial political and military strategies designed to deal with the outbreak. It is, as advertised, very much a 'history' of the zombie apocalypse almost more than it is an actual coherent story, which allows a level of detail to the book generally which is far beyond anything I have ever read in this genre up to now.
Unfortunately, I found that such an approach also brings with it a fair number of negatives. Specifically, all of the interviewees seem to have the same voice, which means that I couldn't really distinguish individual characters per se; I could only really distinguish individual stories. This is a double edged sword in the context of the book, because whilst it allows an interesting level of detail, it destroys any chance of the reader becoming attached to any of these characters.
Equally, because the 'story' just jumps from person to person, and indeed from country to country, for the duration of the book, there is virtually no tension or similar that one would normally expect from a book of this nature. It may be that there was never going to be due to the nature of the book, but irrespective I found it difficulty to be truly immersed in World War Z precisely because there was no constructed plot, developed characters, or overarching sense of tension. Even if those elements are deliberately excluded, it doesn't avoid the fact that it makes the book less accessible as a result.
Ultimately, World War Z reads like a documentary on to the history of the zombie apocalypse. This brings with it the advantage of it going into a huge amount of detail on a global scale, which certainly on a base level made me more interested in this post apocalyptic world than I usually am in books of this nature. But at the same time such an approach makes it difficult to truly engage with the book and become immersed in it, and as such it loses many of the true staple elements that one would expect from a zombie novel.
Do I recommend it? Yes, for its originality if nothing else. But those reading it expecting a new standard in the zombie novel may need to temper those expectations somewhat.