Saturday, February 27, 2010

Book Review : I Am Legend - Richard Matheson 8*

I've done this all in the wrong order, I read the graphic novel first (adapted by Steve Niles and Elman Brown and which remains very true to the novel), then I saw the film (largely a steaming pile of pointless CGI zombie crap with a mutilated ending) and now I have read Matheson's original novel.

Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth after a strange plague has turned human kind into blood thirsty vampires. Neville lives in his fortified home, he farms garlic to keep the vampires at bay in the night, and in the day he becomes their nemesis, seeking them out and killing them with a wooden stake.

Matheson's novel achieves a clever blending of numerous literary styles, this is both a sci-fi novel and a horror work, it is also rooted in the post apocalypse genre and explores the themes of loneliness, despair and the struggle for survival.

Neville is at first glance a strong man in both mind and body, he has planned well and is organised in his daily duties, the removal of vampire bodies and the constant hunt for food and supplies. Inside though he feels despair, life seems suspended for him, all his efforts go just to maintaining the status quo. He dwells on the death of his wife and daughter and drinks heavily.

Neville reaches a moment that changes his life, a dog strays into his garden, and actual living dog, and Neville begins to feed the dog each day in order to tempt it to return. After capturing the dog, he changes his pattern, taking research books from a library he teaches himself about the properties of blood and sets out to find either a better weapon or a cure.

Neville has a complex relationship with Ben Cortman, a former workmate who now as a vampire appears outside his house at every night fall. Cortman is one of the few vampires to speak, and Neville desires above everything to find his daytime resting place and kill him, but when events make this an impossibility Neville finds that his feelings for his tormentor are more complicated than he first thought.

Without giving too many spoilers, the novel ends in a brilliant inversion of the vampire myth, if you have seen the most recent film version with its awful disneyfied dumbed down ending then do read the novel, the original vision is so much darker and much more intelligent.

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