"Handling The Undead" (which was originally called "Hanteringen Av Odöda" in Sweden) is the long second novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (and translated by Ebba Segerberg) and it centers around three couples of people, and how an extraordinary situation effects them. These three couples are David and his son Magnus, Mahler and his daughter Anna, and Elvy and her granddaughter Flora, both of whom are mildly psychic.
David is a stand-up comedian whose wife is killed in a car accident on the day of the reliving, and he is traumatized twice as he has to identify his wife's damaged body in the morgue, and he is then there when she awakes. Mahler is a photo journalist who sees the arisen dead in the hospital morgue when he realizes that his grandson, who had died previously, is probably waking up while buried in the cemetery. He then rushes to the cemetery and digs him up by hand. Then there is young Goth-girl Flora who is visiting Elvy when granddad comes home.
This novel of Sweden's great reliving takes place over the short period of a week (August 13-17). And Lindqvist's reliving aren't your garden variety zombies; only those recently dead within the last two months are those who are coming back to life. Yet, unexplained in the novel all those that die on the day after the dead's reliving and afterwards stay dead. Then there is the fact people become able to pick up the thoughts of others when they are around the reliving, which is bad news and leads to some chaos.
Lindqvist's characters all take this resurrection differently; Mahler becomes obsessive of his grandson and daughter while his daughter, who is in a deep depression over her son's death, becomes overly protective of her son. Elvy is confused, but after seeing what she thinks is a vision of the Virgin Mary becomes a religious fanatic, and is convinced that she is supposed to herald the resurrection of Christ, only Flora is curious as to what it all means, while having visions of her own.
Lindqvist is being touted as being the Swiss Stephen King, and it shows. This is a bloated, often slow-moving novel, which has a lot King's trademarked sloppy plotting in which an idea often takes the place for plot and pacing, and in which the idea itself is never really well thought out and developed. "Handling The Undead" is easily a novel that could have been cut down to two hundred pages or less. David and his son Magnus, for instance, accomplish absolutely nothing that couldn't be handled by a minor character and could have been cut entirely from the novel with absolutely no loss to the story structure. Another character that could have been cut is Peter, Flora's friend. Dull and incurious, he just takes up space, and in the end, even Elvy does nothing to further the plot, as ultimately she accomplishes nothing, and her plotline goes nowhere. Of the rest, most just become intolerably unsympathetic, with only Flora being OF interest and accomplishing anything OF interest. What was needed is a character that represents some form of authority as Lindqvist constantly throws infodumps in the form of summaries (?), transcripts of interviews, and newspaper & radio leads and stories, randomly into the story. This causes Lindqvist to be CONSTANTLY telling us, instead of showing us what is happening.
This goes for the reliving also. After their resurrection they do nothing but wander around and do things by rote. Only Eva, David's recently dead wife, and Elias, Mahler's grandson do anything of interest, and even then it's pretty unfocused and eventually pointless. Eva, being recently dead is the only reliving person who can talk, and then, what? Elias on the other hand becomes Lindqvist's surrogate for autism as through Mahler's thankless administrations he becomes sentient and mobile. But, at the end of this plotline nothing is accomplished either. If the return of the dead and their eventual redeath is supposed to be some meditation on death and how we react to it, and what death itself means, as Lindqvist touches on, then the novel fails at that also.
"Handling The Undead" starts off well, and has a good idea buried in it, but Lindqvist has neither the talent nor the imagination to do anything with it. This becomes more and more obvious as the novel drags itself forward, and it's pointlessness is obvious when we reach the end and nothing is explained or accomplished. Loose plotlines involving the novel's characters are left dangling, and random death at the end. There is no real explanation is offered as to why the dead rise, and why they re-die, except in some form of obtuse metaphysical way is ever given. Although Lindqvist constantly, and lamely, compares the undead with the autistic, it's a comparison that falls flat.
All-in-all this is a novel that is in desperate need of pruning and an editor, it's too long, too meandering, too unfocused, and too unimaginative to rate anything more than two stars.