Review: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Posted: May 26, 2014 in Horror
Tags: ,

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I came late to the zombie party. A few years ago I picked up World War Z by Max Brooks just before I started watching The Walking Dead and, though it has taken me a while to join the shambling hordes in their appreciation of the sub-genre, I’ve definitely got a hunger for more zombie apocalypse books. (Ok, enough of the bad puns.) I’ve recently started a small collection of zombie literature; Zone One by Colson Whitehead came highly recommended and for a number of good reasons.

A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown’s Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One. Mark Spitz is a member of one of the three-person civilian sweeper units tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of the remaining feral zombies. Zone One unfolds over three surreal days in which Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world. And then things start to go terribly wrong…

Zone One is an exceptional book. It has everything expected of a zombie novel but it offers it up using a language and style that is both meandering and luxurious. This adds another layer to the story, pulling you in and wrapping you up in the thoughts of the protagonist. It’s not to be overlooked. Whilst it is not the gut punch of an all-out action book, Whitehead’s tale is a devastating and creepy story, just as powerful and just as addictive to read. Similarly to The Walking Dead (TV show), Zone One is concerned with the affect that the apocalypse has on the survivors. Whitehead’s characters are brilliantly sketched, small details creating believable and relatable actors. The protagonist, ‘Mark Spirtz’ (a nickname with a story that is slowly revealed adding another intriguing and distinct layer to the novel) is painted as Mr mundane, middle-of-the-road. He’s not a military/commando/prepper ready for anything. He’s an unexceptional young man with small dreams which, apparently, is exactly what is required to survive a zombie apocalypse.

The book is told in a series of flashbacks and present scenarios, recalling the main character’s journey to Zone One (a cleared area in New York) through a landscape of survivors all dealing with the terrible realities of ‘the last night’ and the attempts to stay alive. It is those flashbacks that reveal so much. That, just like the inevitable zombie attack, every fellow survivor is a ticking time bomb. This claustrophobic realisation that nowhere is safe and no one is untouched by the horror and insanity of their shared nightmare is pervasive; a creeping terror that powers the book forward.

Zone One is a stunning work of fiction that looks at the zombie apocalypse concept and considers the psychological toll it would have on any survivors whilst simultaneously dropping the reader into a horror story of epic proportions.

The long and short – Definitely worth reading.

Published by Vintage.
My own copy.

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