Tag: John Henry Days

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Posted November 9, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror / 0 Comments

Zone One by Colson WhiteheadTitle: Zone One (Goodreads)
Author: Colson Whitehead
Published: Harvill Secker, 2010
Pages: 259
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Colson Whitehead was known as a novelist of literary fiction with books like The Intuitionist and John Henry Days. However in 2010 all that faded into the background with his new novel Zone One. Whitehead attempts to join the list of literary novelists who take on genre fiction; what Glen Duncan did for werewolves and Justin Cronin did for vampire, when he tries to write a literary zombie novel.

Pandemic has devastated the planet and most of the population is infected by a plague that has turned them into zombies. The uninfected Americans are trying to rebuild civilisation, create order and establish a provisional government. In a settlement of Manhattan, armed forces have successfully regained most of the island. There is a small section known as Zone One that still needs to be reclaimed, and they are working hard to clear it from the dangerous infected.

I picked up this book thinking a literary genre novel would be nice. Zone One is supposed to be about zombies but what I got was a long drawn out stream of conscious about the life of a man named Mark Spitz. This would have been alright if it was executed a little better; tacking the word ‘literary’ on to this novel isn’t an excuse to forgo a plot.

By all accounts this novel could have worked really well, even without a plot. Whitehead had created a decent world with its own idiom and logic; there are even moments of mayhem. The problem was it started as a slow burn and failed to pick up the pace. When it comes to the zombie genre it should be about survival, horror and suspense but all this felt absent from the novel. It tried to go for the slow pace that is found in The Walking Dead, which can allow for self-reflection and character development but forgot to build tension.

The narrator spends so much time on the chronology of Mark Spitz, I often felt like it forgot about the present day situations he was facing. The novel was too heavy on the memories and trying to develop this character, when it should have been adding in a plot. I think the biggest downfall for this novel is the fact it was marketed as a literary zombie novel. If I picked this book up as a retrospective of Mark Spitz’s life; a man who happens to be in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I might have been more forgiving.

I am reluctant to just point out all the flaws in this novel because in all honesty, the last 50 pages were pretty decent. I went in expecting a zombie novel and that isn’t what I was given. I think in the hands of someone else, a literary zombie novel can be pulled off but this is not a good example. I found myself wanting to skim through the pages just so I could get to the end and move onto something better.