May 23, 2009

AUTUMN by David Moody (Review)



Author: David Moody
Infected Books: 2007

RATING: 1.5 / 5 zedheads

Reading David Moody's AUTUMN was a chore. I was compelled to stop reading it on several occasions. Had I not committed to reviewing the book for the blog, I would not have picked it up again.

In short, AUTUMN is a novel that starts with a interesting hook but ultimately does not have enough substance or character to justify 251 pages of story.

My main criticism of AUTUMN is leveled at its pace. This is a story where nothing of driving consequence occurs for two thirds of the book. This is odd given it's opening chapters that graphically depict how an impossibly fast disease wipes out most of humankind in little more than one bloody day. These opening chapters are about as exciting and interesting as the book gets. What follows is the story of our three main protagonists, Emma, Michael, and Carl, who meet one another and a scant handful of other survivors at a city community hall. Eventually Emma, Michael, and Carl decide to leave the city for the country. Good thing too because the corpses of plague victims are – against all possibility – returning from the dead!

The bulk of the story finds Emma, Michael, and Carl lucking upon an abandoned farm house that they secure as a safe haven from the dead. From this point forward, the story completely stalls. The pace of the novel crawls to a stop as our protagonists set up the house, argue, and look for supplies. There is very little plot to engage the reader and move them through the story. Perhaps Moody was trying to give us a taste of the desperation and monotony of the survivor's lives, and that's fine except you can do that and still maintain the reader's interest. Moody offers very little incentive to keep reading. Since Moody limits himself to three characters in an isolated farm house, we only see the world through their very narrow point of view, and frankly they don't do or see a lot. This narrative choice is weirdly inconsistent with the beginning of the novel that is told from a variety of points of view from multiple characters. For example, when the novel takes place in the city, Moody introduces the character of Stuart Jeffries, Sandra Goodwin, and Ralph who add some well-needed narrative and character variety to the story. When Emma, Michael, and Carl leave them behind, however, they drop out of the story and all their character build-up goes to waste. A more interesting novel might have been written about those they left behind.

Now, there's nothing wrong with having a slowly-paced novel with few characters – but your characters have to be interesting. Moody tries to establish some back stories for his characters (although Emma gets little), but the characters feel flat and hollow. Emma is the nurturing female figure who tries to foster cooperation, Carl is the hot-head and angry loner, Michael is the ... well... kind of an empty 'every man.' These three characters argue and bicker in predictable ways, and are some of the most uninteresting characters I've read in survivor fiction. AUTUMN was like being locked in a room with three boring strangers.

Part of the problem comes from the writing itself. AUTUMN is one of Moody's early novels (he's gone on to write more in the AUTUMN series as well as the much-hyped novel HATER) and in AUTUMN the writing does not present much flair for description, mood, or emotional insight. The world of the novel feels removed from the reader because there is a lack of vibrant, gripping detail. It doesn't feel like a fleshed-out world. Moody also spends a lot of time telling the reader what characters feel rather than showing it. We are told that the characters are depressed, or angry, or confused, or plagued by paranoia, but I never felt it in my heart or in their actions. Being told how the characters felt rather than describing it in a palpable way made it difficult to build empathy with the protagonists.

There was also a striking lack of dread and fear in the mood of the novel. The “zombies,” although they are never called this, never seem like a real threat. When the bodies start to rise, they are slow, almost catatonic, and oblivious. Just wandering. Eventually, they begin to congregate and move toward loud noises, but I never felt afraid of them in the story. Moody describes their pathetic stumbling and falling, yet the characters all seem deathly afraid of these creatures anyway. Sure,we'd all be freaked out and run the hell away if a corpse got up and started stumbling around, but it takes a long time for the zombies to show real aggression. In the meantime, however, everyone seems petrified by the creatures. In the story itself, we never actually see the zombies do anything terrifying. Late in the novel, one of the characters stumbles upon a gory scene of dead survivors and we assume this was caused by the zombies, but all we ever see the creatures do is wander, grasp at people, bang on doors and windows, surge through doorways in large numbers, and fall down in the mud. Do they eat flesh? No idea. Do they attack people? I think so. Do they tear people up or strangle them or beat them? No idea. The threat and tension in AUTUMN is very poorly defined. Moody goes to great lengths to try and put a twist on the zombie, but whatever he is trying to do does not offer much tension. Moody often calls the zombies "lamentable corpses," which inspires feelings of pity and not fear.

The unattributed promotional quotes on the back of the novel call AUTUMN “the perfect zombie story” and “beautifully apocalyptic.” I have to call shenanigans on that. AUTUMN isn't gory enough for the gore hounds, scary enough for horror fans, dramatic enough for drama fans, or narratively insightful enough for post-apocalypse fans.

AUTUMN is a good idea underwhelming executed. Perhaps Moody's other work is better, but this novel leaves me with little interest in reading more of the series.

What I am excited about is the independent film adaptation of AUTUMN from writer/ producer/ director Steven Rumbelow and Renegade Motion Pictures. Starring Dexter Fletcher, the AUTUMN movie has a trailer that already looks way more exciting and scary than the novel. People say movies are never as good as the book, but I've often found that when the book didn't satisfy me the movie versions can.

Check out this cool trailer for AUTUMN the movie!