In his new novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist does for zombies what his previous novel, Let the Right One In, did for vampires.
Across Stockholm the power grid has gone crazy. In the morgue and in cemeteries, the recently deceased are waking up. One grandfather is alight with hope that his grandson will be returned, but one husband is aghast at what his adored wife has become.
A horror novel that transcends its genre by showing what the return of the dead might really mean to those who loved them.
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John Ajvide Lindqvist is the author of Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead. Let The Right One In, his debut novel, was an instant bestseller in Sweden and was named Best Novel in Translation 2005 in Norway. The Swedish film adaptation, directed by Tomas Alfredsson, has won top honors at film festivals all over the globe, including Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. An American remake, Let Me In, written and directed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, was released in October 2010 to rave reviews. Lindqvist grew up in Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm and the setting for Let the Right One In. Wanting to become something awful and fantastic, he first became a conjurer, and then was a stand-up comedian for twelve years. He has also written for Swedish television. He lives in Sweden.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
What have I done to deserve this?
David lifted his eyes from the desk, looking at the framed photograph of Duane Hanson’s plastic sculpture ‘Supermarket Lady’.
A woman, obese, in a pink top and turquoise skirt, pushing a loaded shopping trolley. She has curlers in her hair, a fag dangling from the corner of her mouth. Her shoes are worn down, barely covering the swollen, aching feet. Her gaze is empty. On the bare skin of her upper arms you can just make out a violet mark, bruising. Perhaps her husband beats her.
But the trolley is full. Filled to bursting.
Cans, cartons, bags. Food. Microwave meals. Her body is a lump of flesh forced inside her skin, which in turn has been crammed into the tight skirt, the tight top. The gaze is empty, the lips hard around the cigarette, a glimpse of teeth. The hands grip the trolley handle.
And the trolley is full. Filled to bursting.
David drew in air through his nostrils, could almost smell the mixture of cheap perfume and supermarket sweat.
Every time his ideas dried up, when he felt hesitant, he looked at this picture. It was Death; the thing you struggle against. All the tendencies in society that point towards this picture are evil, everything that points away from it is...better.
The door to Magnus’ room opened and Magnus emerged with a Pokémon card in his hand. From inside the room you could hear the agitated voice of the cartoon frog, Grodan Boll, ‘Noooo, come ooooon!’
Magnus held out the card.
‘Daddy, is Dark Golduck an eye or a kind of water?’
‘Water. Sweetheart, we’ll have to talk about this later...’
‘But he has eye attack.’
‘Yes, but...Magnus. Not now. I’ll come when I’m ready. OK?’
Magnus caught sight of the newspaper in front of David.
‘What are they doing?’
‘Please, Magnus. I’m working. I’ll come in a minute.’
‘Ab...so...lut filth. What does that mean?’
David closed the newspaper and took hold of Magnus’ shoulders. Magnus struggled, trying to open the paper.
‘Magnus! I’m serious. If you don’t let me work now I won’t have any time for you later. Go into your room, close the door. I’ll be there soon.’
‘Why do you have to work all the time!’
David sighed. ‘If you only knew how little I work compared to other parents. But please, leave me alone for a little while.’
‘Yes, yes, yes.’
Magnus wriggled out of his grasp and went back to his room. The door slammed shut. David walked once around the room, wiped his underarms with a towel and sat back down at the desk. The window to the Kungsholmen shoreline was wide open but there was almost no breeze, and David was sweating even though his upper body was bare.
He opened the newspaper again. Something funny had to come of this.
A giveaway promotion featuring adult magazines and liquor; two women from the Swedish Centre Party pouring vodka over an issue of Hustler as a protest. Distressed, read the caption. David studied their faces. Mostly, they looked belligerent, as if they wanted to pulverise the photographer with their eyes. The spirits ran down over the naked woman on the cover.
It was so grotesque it was hard to make something funny out of it. David’s gaze scoured the image, tried to find a point of entry.
Photograph: Putte Merkert
There it was.
The photographer. David leaned back in the chair, looked up at the ceiling and started to formulate something. After several minutes he had the bare outline of a script written in longhand. He looked at the women again. Now their accusing gazes were directed at him.
‘So; planning to make fun of us and our beliefs are you?’ they said. ‘What about you?’
‘Yes, OK,’ David said out loud to the newspaper. ‘But at least I know I’m a clown, unlike the two of you.’
He kept writing, with a buzzing headache that he put down to a nagging conscience. After twenty minutes he had a passable routine that might even be amusing if he milked it for all it was worth. He glanced up at Supermarket Lady but received no guidance. Possibly he was walking in her footsteps, sitting in her basket.
It was half past four. Four and a half hours until he was due on stage, and there were already butterflies in his stomach.
He made a cup of coffee, smoked a cigarette and went in to see Magnus, spent half an hour talking about Pokémon, helped Magnus to sort the cards and interpret what they said.
‘Dad,’ Magnus asked, ‘what exactly is your job?’
‘You already know that. You were there at Norra Brunn once. I tell stories and people laugh and...Then I get paid for it.’
‘Why do they laugh?’
David looked into Magnus’ serious eight-year-old’s eyes and burst into laughter himself. He stroked Magnus’ head and answered, ‘I don’t know. I really don’t know. Now I’m going to have some coffee.’
‘Oh, you’re always drinking coffee.’
David got up from the floor where the cards lay spread out. When he reached the door, he turned around to look at his son, whose lips moved as he read one of his cards.
‘I think,’ David said, ‘that people laugh because they want to laugh. They have paid to come and laugh, and so they laugh.’
Magnus shook his head. ‘I don’t get it.’
‘No,’ David said, ‘I don’t either.’
Eva came back from work at half past five and David greeted her in the hall.
‘Hi sweetheart,’ she said. ‘What’s up?’
‘Death, death, death,’ David replied, holding his hands over his stomach. He kissed her. Her upper lip was salt with sweat. ‘And you?’
‘Fine. A little bit of a headache. Otherwise I’m fine. Have you been able to write?’
‘No, it...’ David gestured vaguely at the desk. ‘Yes, but it isn’t that good.’
Eva nodded. ‘No, I know. Will I get to hear it later?’
‘If you like.’
Eva left to find Magnus, and David went to the bathroom, let some of the nervousness drain out of him. He remained on the toilet seat for a while, studying the pattern of white fishes on the shower curtain. He wanted to read his script to Eva; in fact, he needed to read it to her. It was funny, but he was ashamed of it and was afraid that Eva would say something about...the ideas behind it. Of which there were none. He flushed, then rinsed his face with cold water.
I’m an entertainer. Plain and simple.
Yes. Of course. He made a light dinner—a mushroom omelette—while Magnus and Eva laid out the Monopoly board in the living room. David’s underarms ran with sweat as he stood at the stove sautéing the mushrooms.
This weather. It isn’t natural.
An image suddenly loomed in his mind: the greenhouse effect. Yes. The Earth as a gigantic greenhouse. With us planted here millions of years ago by aliens. Soon they’ll be back for the harvest.
He scooped the omelette onto plates and called out that dinner was served. Good image, but was it funny? No. But if you added someone fairly well known, like...a newspaper columnist, say—Staffan Heimersson—and said he was the leader of the aliens in disguise. So therefore Staffan Heimersson’s solely responsible for the greenhouse effect...
‘What are you thinking about?’
‘Oh, nothing. That it’s Staffan Heimersson’s fault it’s so warm.’
Eva waited. David shrugged. ‘No, that was it. Basically.’
‘Mum?’ Magnus was done picking the tomato slices out of his salad. ‘Robin said that if the Earth gets warmer the dinosaurs will come back, is that true?’
His headache got worse during the game of Monopoly, and everyone became unnecessarily grumpy when they lost money. After half an hour they took a break for Bolibompa, the children’s program, and Eva went to the kitchen and made some espresso. David sat in the sofa and yawned. As always when he was nervous he became drowsy, just wanted to sleep.
Magnus curled up next to him and they watched a documentary about the circus. When the coffee was ready, David got up despite Magnus’ protests. Eva was at the stove, fiddling with one of the knobs.
‘Strange,’ she remarked, ‘I can’t turn it off.’
The power light wouldn’t go off. David turned some knobs at random, but nothing happened. The burner on which the coffee pot sat gurgling was red-hot. They couldn’t be bothered doing anything to it for the moment, so David read his piece out while they drank the heavily sugared espresso and smoked. Eva thought it was funny.
‘Can I do it?’
‘You don’t think that it’s...’
‘Well, going too far. They’re right, of course.’
‘Well? What does that have to do with it?’
‘No, of course. Thanks.’
Ten years they had been married, and hardly a day went by that David did not look at Eva and think, ‘How bloody lucky I am.’ Naturally there were black days. Weeks, even, without joy or the possibility of it, but even then, at the bottom of all the murk, he knew there was a placard that read bloody good luck. Maybe he couldn’t see it at that moment, but it always resurfaced.
She worked as an editor and il...
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