Bright lights in a big city herald the return of the dead in Swedish horrorist Lindqvist’s second novel, after Let the Right One In (2007), a vampire tale that was later turned into a movie.
This time the author replaces vampires with zombies, a switch that effectively accents his expressive, unnerving writing. In the process he offers a unique and humanistic take on the undead that has a place alongside thoughtful horror novels like World War Z. The story begins in Stockholm with a subtle natural phenomenon. The country, deep in its winter twilight, experiences a collective headache that threatens to drive its sufferers mad. Next, the city is struck by a massive short circuit, a reverse blackout that powers up every appliance. Then Lindqvist introduces his cast: David, a stand-up comedian and loving husband; Mahler, a suicidal journalist who mourns the untimely death of his grandson Elias; and Elvy and her granddaughter Flora, quietly acknowledging the new telepathy that has emerged between them. When the dead do come back, the book delivers believable terror. The most disquieting scenes come early. David rushes to the hospital, where his beloved wife Eva has died in a car accident. As he cries with despair, his wife suddenly grasps his hand, opens one gruesome dead eye and croaks his name. Anyone who can drop off to sleep after this passage has nerves of steel. After photographing a newly reanimated morgue, Mahler rushes to his grandson’s grave, where he disinters the child’s body and carries the desiccated corpse home to bathe it. What’s interesting about what follows is the way that it’s handled—not with Romero-esque sarcasm and blood-spattering gunplay, but with sincere reflection on what would happen if the dead arose. How would the government respond? What does it mean to be human if death is not the end? And perhaps most importantly, how would we feel if those we loved and lost were suddenly returned to us?
A philosophical story about fears to which no beating heart is immune.