Always late to the party when it comes to bestsellers, I recently decided it was time to try out Max Brooks’ World War Z. Zombies seem only to be growing in popularity — the next vampire, perhaps? — and with World War Z’s big movie slated for June 21, it was only a matter of time until I caved, too. And I can say this: This book was definitely not what I expected when I heard the “Z” word.
Described as an “oral history of the zombie war,” the novel detours from the traditional route in zombie fiction; instead of describing the war from beginning to end with a single narrative and set characters, it details experiences from around the world in short “oral” accounts by those who survived the ordeal. These accounts are collected by a United Nations Postwar Commission agent, of whom Brooks assumes the role, in a personal report that the UN rejected as too intimate for official use and therefore printed as World War Z.
It was refreshing seeing a zombie story pieced together the way this one was. Instead of focusing on the guts and gore that encompass 90% of zombie movies and literature, World War Z focuses more on the causes, effects, and “human experience” (in character Brooks’ terms) of the ten-year war between man and undead. And it reads like a true history account rather than a novel — not only in the personal details by the characters, but in the historical “facts” and military jargon that certain sections use. It even includes the occasional footnote for the post-war reader to clue him or her in on pre-war, or our present-day, conventions.
At first, this disappointed me. I was looking forward to a bloody horror page-turner. World War Z was not as bloody as I expected, nor was it a quick read, but it demanded attention. Each account connects to the next, pulling the reader forward through the chapters to trace the spread of the virus across the world. It brazenly questions not only our, but the world’s, societies in the way that true literature (a word not usually used to describe zombie fiction) does. And, yes, it does sate our zombie-like thirst for blood in occasional, but perfectly described, passages: “They’d been torn apart. Their limbs, their bones, shredded and gnawed [...] We found meat, chewed, pulped flesh bulging from their throats and stomachs,” (20).
But would a movie directed in this way be enough to hold an audience’s attention? It works great in book form, but just like me, audiences think, “Blood! Guts!” when they hear “zombie movie,” and with a big Hollywood name like Brad Pitt producing it… I have my suspicions about how true it will stay to the novel. As it is, IMDB’s description runs thus: “A U.N. employee racing against time and fate, as he travels the world trying to stop the outbreak of a deadly Zombie pandemic.” This implies that Brooks’ character is relaying the events from his point of view during the war and having a direct role in changing it. Not the case in the book.
What do you think, World War Z fans? Zombie fanatics? Did you like the book? Does the movie sound like a risky venture? I’m leaning more toward the latter.