The New Hunger (Warm Bodies) by Isaac Marion (book review).

November 27, 2015 | By | Reply More

Isaac Marion hit pay dirt in 2010 when his debut novel, ‘Warm Bodies’ was published. His bittersweet retelling of the ‘Romeo And Juliet’ story, transplanted into a post-apocalyptic America filled with zombies, was a huge commercial success and as a result was quickly transformed into a Hollywood movie starring Nicholas Hoult as R, the zombie with a heart, and Teresa Palmer, as the object of his affections, Julie.


No doubt buoyed by that success, Marion has decided to revisit the main characters from ‘Warm Bodies’ in ‘The New Hunger’, a prequel novella that shows us how they became the people, whether alive or undead, that we came to know in the original story.

I have to admit up front that, to my mind, most prequels are a mistake. Novelists are told to start their story as late as possible for a reason: nobody likes to read several introductory chapters where nothing much happens. Just as most of us aren’t actually that interested in what our favourite sports star, politician or celebrity did when they were five, there’s a limit to how much we want to know about the boring, ordinary life of characters from our favourite novels, prior to the exciting incidents that make those novels worth reading.

This is where Marion has an advantage. ‘Warm Bodies’ starts some considerable way into the zombie apocalypse. His characters have already been to hell and back before the opening paragraph of that novel. So, for once, there’s the potential for a prequel that may actually be worth reading. Is it?

The novella alternates between three parallel storylines. In the first, a man, whom readers of the earlier book will quickly realise is the newly undead R, wakes up lying in a clearing in a forest. He can’t remember anything at first and is confronted by a disturbing scene. In his hand is a gun, which he appears to have used to kill the beautiful woman lying next to him, along with four zombies sprawled nearby. What happened here and why? He doesn’t know and, in his confused, newly zombified state, doesn’t really care. All he wants is to find another person, though he’s not sure what for. He starts walking.

Meanwhile, in nearby Seattle, sixteen year-old Nora Greene is trying to keep herself and her seven year-old brother Addis safe from zombies after their drug-addicted parents abandoned them, having decided that looking after them was too dangerous. Addis retains the innocence of youth, playing in parks regardless of the potential dangers and encouraging Nora to help other people less fortunate than themselves.

The third story concerns twelve year-old Julie Grigio, whose Army officer father John is driving her and her mother Audrey across America from the east coast to the west, trying to find a city that hasn’t fallen to the zombie onslaught yet.

Each of these three sets of characters is searching for redemption through other people and as the story progresses they all start to converge on Seattle. Will they each make it? Are they destined to meet? What will happen if they do?

Marion has an idiosyncratic writing style, sometimes highbrow and literary, at other times straightforward and down-to-earth. It’s certainly not like most zombie novels I’ve read. My guess is that it won’t be to everyone’s taste but I loved it. He has a way of digging deep inside his characters and making you feel great sympathy for them. All the main players in this book are damaged in some way and each wears his or her mental and physical scars in a different way. They have clearly distinctive voices and I enjoyed getting to know them all in turn.

Despite the fact that this is a prequel, so we broadly know how it’s going to end, Marion still managed to ramp up the tension towards the end, creating a satisfying reading experience and a worthwhile companion to the original novel.

If you enjoyed ‘Warm Bodies’, either on paper or as a film, ‘The New Hunger’ provides a welcome opportunity to revisit the main characters and get to know them a little better. If you’re coming to this world for the first time, on the other hand, then this brief novella provides an ideal introduction. Recommended.

Patrick Mahon

November 2015

(pub: Simon & Schuster. 192 page paperback. Price: $14.00 (USA), $18.00 (CAN), £ 9.30. ISBN: 978-1-4767-9965-0)

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Category: Books, Horror

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