World War Z by Max Brooks Novel Review

World War Z

World War Z by Max Brooks

I have an awful confession to make: I watched the World War Z movie before I read the book.

I know, what disgusting and despicable behaviour. I had been meaning to read the novel for a long time as the synopsis is the epitome of everything I could possibly want from a piece of fiction, but I just hadn’t managed to get round to it before the movie came out. Some say I could have waited but I decided to watch it at the cinema first…and I’m so glad I did.

For all of you who don’t know, the movie and the book are like two completely separate entities. The novel is almost like a series of short stories that detail the events of a zombie apocalypse from multiple points of view, presented in the form of interviews between an agent from the United Nations Postwar Commission and surviving witnesses. All interviewees are from differing countries and varying positions of authority to cover every possible angle of the war.

The movie, however, is a bog standard zombie flick in which Brad Pitt flies around the world as Brad Pitt – ever the lethargic hero of humankind. At the time I thought that the movie was okay but had nothing particularly special about it. As it was rated a 12 it lacked the punchiness of 28 Days Later (which it was clearly trying to emulate) and wasn’t wholly believable as far as fictional zombie apocalypses go. Like many modern movies it displayed reasonable quality in performance, production and presentation, but lacked significantly in imagination.

The movie experience lowered my expectations for the book so much that I put off reading it even longer. When I finally decided to start it, I was grateful to discover that not only was the novel superior to the movie, but it was also one of the most comprehensive and ingenious novels of its genre.

The level of detail in World War Z is genuinely ridiculous. From the point of infection to the initial stages of recovery, Brooks compacts so much historical, political and military context that it’s difficult to think of it as fictional. Of course, Brooks relied heavily on reality to build the foundations of his novel, but his vision of the apocalypse is so precise that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the level of intensity behind his planning and research.

Brooks is an incredibly competent short story writer, which is an enviable skill. He encapsulates the background, personality and motivation of each character into a mere few pages and then successfully ties it all together to form a complete and intricate timeline.

Perhaps the level of detail he provides drags occasionally and I did find the writing style to be a little samey considering there are so many characters within the novel, but overall I find it difficult to find fault in this fascinating piece of literature.

I am baffled as to why Marc Foster chose not to adapt the novel as a mockumentary. I feel we have missed out on what could have been an incredible movie or TV series, which perhaps proves that it is better to watch the movie first after all.

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