Wednesday, 7 January 2015
World War Z by Max Brooks
I really wanted to like World War Z. It was a favourite with my husband, and I think the premise of the novel is very clever. I like the idea of it being a history book rather than a story, and it allows Brooks to bring in stories from people all around the world. We get to be there when a doctor arrives on the scene of the first outbreak, when Israel decided to shut themselves off completely, when the bold decision was made to abandon parts and populations of whole countries, in order to save the few and avoid the total destruction of humanity. I liked the descriptions of what it was like to face the zombies, and to be on the run from them.
Unfortunately, there were a few things that stopped me from enjoying World War Z. Although it was a quick read and never hard to get through, it ultimately disappointed me. The first problem was the lack of tension. The 'history book' conceit of the novel means that you know that everyone who is narrating their account survives. No matter how dangerous the situations they find themselves in, no matter how slim the chance of survival seems, you know they are going to survive, and this ruins it a bit. Another issue was that all of the accounts were of people who made key decisions or were in key places. Of course, that is who would make it into a history book if this were to happen, but I missed the run of the mill accounts of everyday people. I can only think of one like this, and it's a shame there wasn't more.
However, the main problem I had with World War Z is that it was too focused on being technical and clever. Brooks is very concerned with how the outbreak spread, the politics of the different countries and their reactions to it (and these were extremely stereotypical, another negative) and the military responses. There are pages and pages of descriptions of weapons, and of arguments between different forces on effective responses and which weapons should be scrapped. I can't deny that Brooks' scenario is plausible, and he has obviously thought everything through carefully, but I missed the emotional connection. I didn't want to read about weapons and battle tactics, I wanted more human impact, more of the feelings that would come with your world being turned upside down. Perhaps diary entries of those that couldn't cope, or stories from families who had lost members could have been included, anything to make it more emotionally engaging.
Overall, the history book format is both the strength and weakness of World War Z. It's a clever idea, and Brooks' scenarios are extremely plausible but it also completely destroys the tension and the emotional connection to the story.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2006
Score: 2.5 out of 5