Book Review

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: A Guest Review by CarrieS

B+

Title: Warm Bodies
Author: Issac Marion
Publication Info: Atria Books 2001
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9231-3
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion This is less of a review than it is a question – what makes a romance novel worthy of the title of romance novel?  Up until now I considered any novel to qualify if it had a HEA, and if the love story was the central aspect of the novel.  Lately the book Warm Bodies has challenged my assumptions about what a romance novel is or can be.

In Warm Bodies, a zombie apocalypse has destroyed most of human society.  In an un-named city, the zombies have taken up residence at the airport, while human survivors live at the stadium.  R, a zombie, eats Perry, a human, and takes in Perry's memories.  As a result, R falls in love with Perry's girlfriend, Julie.  MILD SPOILERS AHEAD.

I can tell you with confidence that Warm Bodies is an amazing book.  Its use of language is marvelous, the sense of humor sneaks up on you in the most fantastically subversive fashion, and it is deeply moving.  It also meets my romance novel criteria of old.  Not only is the love story the most important aspect of the novel for personal reasons, but the fate of the world hinges upon its success.  What it doesn't have is anything, or any person, or any place, that I would want to be – and that leads me to my question.

Does a romance novel have to contain an element of fantasy to qualify as a true romance novel as opposed to just a love story?  I'm using the term fantasy in the sense of wanting or desiring something, not in the sense of a genre that regularly includes unicorns.  In every romance novel I've read, there is something to desire, and it's not just the sexy guy and the great relationship.  People eat great food, or they fly a spaceship, or they have a crappy little apartment but they decorate it with fabulous throw pillows.  They go to exotic locations, or live in bustling and exciting cities, or live in quaint and quirky towns.  We may not want to actually be the protagonist, but we want to dream ourselves into some aspect of their worlds or their lives.

Warm Bodies is occasionally a funny book, and it is certainly a sweet book, but it is also profoundly horrifying, not because scary things go “Boo!” but because it describes two terrible fates.  People who are turned into zombies lose their memories and their ability to use language – yet they still feel, albeit in a muted sense.  They feel just enough to know that they should feel more – just enough to suffer.  They speak in monosyllables.  For R, in particular, this is a torment – he longs for the ability to communicate fully and to feel deeply.  I was so appalled by this situation that the things other reviewers have praised about the book, especially its sense of humor, were totally lost on me until I re-read it.  Meanwhile, humans cower within the walls of the stadium.  They teach their children how to load weapons and plant crops before they teach them to read (the redemptive power of language is important in both the zombie and human plotlines of the book).  They have no hope.  They are almost zombies themselves through sheer despair.

Although I'm a little jealous of Julie's iPod and R's vinyl collection, this is not a world I want to live in or to visit, and as amazing as R is as a character, I'm beyond grateful that there's no sex scene.  It is true that Julie and her friend comment about how nice R looks when he's cleaned up, but still, all I can think in terms of sex is, “Ew”.   The upcoming movie adaptation has tackled this by casting a gorgeous actor, but I think they overshot.  I don't think this is a story about a guy who sparkles gorgeously in the sunlight – it's a story about a decomposing, bloody, dead person who smells bad.  It's the grim fact of the zombieism that makes the story so incredibly touching – but I can't find it sexy, and any dream I may have of the world in which the characters live is nothing but a nightmare.

Obviously, Warm Bodies' biggest struggle is with marketing.  We aren't used to stories in which a romance on which the fate of the world depends starts with brain consumption.  I'm not sure how to convince the readers of Smart Bitches to read a book about a romance between a human and a zombie except to say that it will touch you, it will horrify you, it will perplex you, it will fill you with hope, and it will challenge your assumptions about YA, horror, and romance.  I recommend it – I just wish I knew what to call it!


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Anna says:

    This is a book that really shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.  I’m both looking forward to and dreading the movie in the way that you do when Hollywood gets ahold of a book you enjoyed.  I’m not even sure how they’ll translate it to screen, since so much of the power of the book comes from R’s voice as he tells his thoughts to the reader in a way he can’t vocalize.

  2. 2
    Ashley L. says:

    I’ve had this book on my to-read list on Goodreads for awhile. This is by far the best review I’ve read for it, because it addresses all the concerns I had about the book. I plan to pick this one up soon.

  3. 3
    CarrieS says:

    In re-reading my review, I realize that I should have made it clear that the book isn’t being sold in the romance novel section – it’s being marketed as either sci fi/horror or YA. 

  4. 4
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    Holy shit, I went to IMDB and was totally ogling Nicholas Hoult until I realized that he played the son in “About a Boy.” Now I’m horrified, not by the prospect of zombie sex, but by my lecherous thoughts about this little kid. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Y__u…

  5. 5
    CarrieS says:

    I have the same problem with Daniel Radcliffe.

  6. 6
    Tania Kennedy says:

    Fantasy is a genre that regularly includes unicorns? That is so false. It’s like saying all romance novels include Fabio.

    I get that you needed to specify between types of fantasy, but the fantasy genre suffers from a different, but as real sort of mainstream disdain as romance readers. Shut-in nerds, as opposed to lonely desperate housewives.

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    Tania, check out some of my other reviews – I’m a huge fan of fantasy, as well as sci fi, and I regularly bemoan the prejudice against genre fiction.  No slight to fantasy intended.

  8. 8
    Tania Kennedy says:

    I know, which is why the unicorn comment was so off-putting. I read mostly fantasy and romance, and I can think of two out of scores of authors and series who include unicorns.

  9. 9
    LauraN says:

    I think this is my day to defend humor.  We’re talking about this over at the links pst too.  People who love things sometimes also make fun of the thing they love.  This is humor.  Fantasy = unicorns is simply one example of that.  I’m guessing that CarrieS wanted something that would be shorthand for a fantastical world, and as a symbol of that, unicorns work pretty well.  I say that as someone who regularly reads and enjoys fantasy novels, and agrees that there aren’t many actual unicorns in them.

    Poking fun at something we love is a major part of what happens here at SBTB.The fact is, there are many absurd but lovable things about romance.  For example, I love historicals, and now I’m pretty sure that all hot medieval lords were named for beasts and/or birds of prey.  ALL OF THEM.

    Then there’s the absurdity of my favorite subgenre: romantic suspense.  I love them, but sometimes they can give you whiplash.  The plot can sometimes go a little like this:

    Grisly corpse.
    OMG you’re so hot.
    Grisly corpse.
    That lady smells like lilacs, coffee, sun-dried sheets, lavender, vanilla, AND hot, hot woman.
    Oh look, another grisly corpse.
    Sexxoring.
    Explosions! (Of the not fun variety)
    Etc.

    This is silly, and yet I love it.  The enjoyment I get from making fun of the genre does not diminish the enjoyment I get from reading the genre.

  10. 10
    CarrieS says:

    Was going to let the matter drop but could not resist saying, LauraN, thank you for being the defender of humor!  You stated my case better than I ever could.  For the record, although I consider it highly reductionist (and humorously intended) to say that fantasy regularly includes unicorns, I certainly don’t consider it insulting.  I did a quick (5 second) search for books with unicorns and this link from Good Reads will keep me busy for while:

    http://www.goodreads.com/genre…

  11. 11
    CK says:

    LMAO. I had the same reaction. “Oh look, the hot guy from X-Men. Wait. He was in About a Boy? What character…Oh. Good. God. That ain’t right.” :)

  12. 12
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    Hahaha! I feel like a dirty old lady a lot of the time.

  13. 13

    I loved this book. And I agree with the posters above that it shouldn’t work but somehow it does.

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