I read Isaac Marion’s 2010 novel Warm Bodies last year as part of a Modern and Contemporary Gothic module, and while it received some harsh criticism from our tutor (to make a long story short, it was criticised for its utter failure as a piece of Gothic literature), I wanted explore it a little further because, I confess, I enjoyed the book. True, perhaps its didn’t show great skill in executing the Gothic mode, and perhaps it could have done with a little more diversity (it was also criticised for being too hetero-normative), and perhaps its ‘love is the answer to everything’ lesson was a little cliché, but I enjoyed it, and sometimes that’s all a novel needs to be – enjoyable.
The novel is narrated by a zombie named simply ‘R’, who provides a wry, humorous voice, for example the opening line; ‘I’m dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it’. He’s a narrator with great depth, his observations ranging from humorous, to poignant, to melancholic. He’s capable of great eloquence, as in the moment he expresses his frustration at his inability to string together more than a few syllables at a time with the lines ‘I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I’m drowning in ellipses.’ R falls in love with Julie, a living human, and learns about her life through the eyes of her dead ex-boyfriend, Perry, whose brain R snacks on in order to experience Perry’s memories in a dream-like vision. A little strange, slightly creepy perhaps, but what would a good novel be without some question of morals?
It has all the elements of a great Young Adult novel: complicated relationships, eloquent language, pop culture references, love and loss. That, and zombies. And I think that’s why it fails as a Gothic text, because it’s just not trying to be a Gothic text. True, its preoccupation with death and decay give it Gothic undertones but at its heart it’s Young Adult fiction. We should be comparing it to Eleanor & Park and Divergent, not Frankenstein and The Shining. It’s a bit like criticising Austen for failing as a sci-fi author.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, give Warm Bodies a read. It’s no Stephen King but it’s witty and thoughtful, it’s written beautifully and it’s got some great illustrations.