Way Of The Barefoot Zombie
Way Of The Barefoot Zombie
Author(s): Jasper Bark
Publisher: Abaddon Books
Publication Date: 2009
Describing the plot of this book is quite a challenge. Regarding the main plot try to imagine Plague of the Zombies meets a Harvard business course. Of course that is simplifying the issue, throw in some activists (the Zombie Liberation Front) , a necrophilia sub-plot (with a fantastic conclusion) and family issues and your slightly closer.
The story begins with our two main protagonists (Benjamin and Tatyana) landing on a mysterious island called St. Ignatius in order to embark on a course entitled ‘Way of the Barefoot Zombie’, a very expensive and exclusive course for the elite to learn how to make the next step in business and personal wealth. Unknown to the course providers, both Benjamin and Tatyana are part of the Zombie Liberation Front (ZLF) and seek to free the zombies that are being held captive on the island. It is from here that we learn the nature of the ‘noble creatures’ as the ZLF refer to them as, and how far people will go in order to succeed in life. We are also introduced to the mysterious Doc Papa who is the leader on the island and harbours a dark secret as to the true cost of the course….here’s a hint it is not monetary. From reading through the story, I felt that all of the characters were well fleshed out with their motivations and personalities thought out and explained where necessary and this really helped me, as a reader, to associate and empathise with the protagonists while understanding the reasoning of the antagonists. Due to this, the book becomes quite addictive in parts as you are determined and excited to find out more about the mysterious characters that become prevalent and how certain situations are managed providing a sense of excitement when you pick up the book.
Jasper Bark also manages to fill the book with plenty of appropriate humour, he seems to know who his audience are and what they want, with the first zombie encounter description almost an anecdote ending with “they could all see he pissed himself” which in the context of the story made me laugh out loud as I could almost imagine an Alan Partridge-esque character relaying that story. The author has an obvious love for the genre and even has one of the characters write a love letter based on the plot of Zombie flesh eaters (something to copy next valentines day for your loved one) and is set in a reality that is self-aware as such, with one protagonist while learning to act like a zombie stating ‘I should be better at this…how many zombie flicks have I watched”. The story briefly has a character named Lucio (Fulci possibly?) and a location named Romero’s Cafe. Although one may question if the author takes it too far as one page reads similar to American Psycho but instead of brands being referenced it is zombie movies which serves little purpose in the story.
Due to this almost fanboy referencing that I found the book even more enjoyable (and endeared the author to me), as it is by a zombie fan for zombie fans and in a period where the zombies have once again entered the mainstream (As proven by a trip down your local bookstore where zombie comedy/parody books have exploded since the Zombie survival guide) is a nice change that someone genuinely likes the genre.
Zombie Fear Factor: **
A third of the story in and I was still wondering what the zombie back story was. As such there was no fear regarding them from either myself or even from any of the characters in the story. World domination does not look on the cards in this story, in fact the opposite is true as they are referenced to as assets and although in more than one instance they show what they are capable they are not an unstoppable, constant force and can be controlled through voodoo showing that they are not the real threat but rather their masters. In fact toward the end of the film the tide changes and it is in fact the “zombies that are under siege from the humans” in an interesting role reversal asking the question who are the real monsters. Although it is also worth noting as the zombies are seen as assets there is very little gunfire involved in the book, as the owners (even controllers) of the zombies do not want their property destroyed and this undermines any real threat they attach to the zombies.
I have rated them only two stars as when they are not controlled they are fearsome and able to swarm and envelop their prey but they spend too much time under control.
Zombie Behaviour: ****
In this book the zombies are able to detect the living through a multitude of senses. Smell, body mannerisms, emotions and an elevated heart rate all give the living away and it is these characteristics that the living seek to reduce or eradicate through the ‘business’ course that is the Way of the barefoot zombie. As such the living can walk amongst the zombies and blend in, similar to that scene in Shaun of the Dead as the group of survivors make their way to the pub. We also learn that the undead need to eat in order to slow the decomposition of their flesh, a situation similar to that in Return of the Living dead, although this plot point is only mentioned briefly in the story and bears no real significance. Other behavioural points include that they are the shambling, traditional zombies where their movement and abilities are limited by that of their decaying flesh although the author notes at one point that zombies give chase and this left me confused if they were capable of running although further reading would indicate that this is not the case.
However, these zombies can be controlled through voodoo and herded through a conscious group thought. This puts them more in the Serpent and the Rainbow or Plague of the zombies camp rather than mindless flesh-eating ghouls or Romero or Fulci (despite the physical similarities). As such this is why they do not get the full five-star rating as they are not mindless killing machines able to infect others through bites but rather tools with their own primal instincts being suppressed
Zombie Threat: *
The threat in this book comes more from the voodoo exhibited and how the zombies are controlled rather than due to any apocalyptic scenario. As the story progresses and the characters priorities fracture away from side A and side B into personal survival we see that the real dangers are the humans and how far they will go. One could almost feel sorry for the zombies in this book as they are exploited in death for the profit (and sometimes pleasure) of the living whilst being kept in captivity and fed when appropriate. However, when all hell breaks loose and left to their own devices the zombies form an almost unstoppable horde able to devour all those who oppose them. Although being stuck on this island the threat to the rest of the world is minimal and in theory the guests should all be versed in how to survive with the zombies. In theory.
Gore Content: ***
Overall this book features reasonably gory descriptions, aided (I am unsure if this is a positive feature or not) by a lot of the described scenes being loosely based on films allowing for any discerning zombie fan to easily be able to imagine the carnage in most cases. A case in point is where a ‘student’ on the course rams a ‘bone into the zombies eye socket’ eliciting the memory of the Zombie Flesh Eaters scene with the wood splint going into the eye, however this may just be due to clever writing and the referencing of said film not long before. Not all of the descriptions are linked to films however with the necrophilia sub-plot having a highly original and humorous ending featuring a lady-boy zombie. Certainly not something I have come across before. It is worth reading simply for this.
Overall Quality: ****
Upon reading the title and synopsis of this story I was unsure if I would enjoy this book and (unfairly) went in slightly sceptical if the mix of social satire and voodoo would be successful. I was wrong. The writing style is generally intelligent, witty and modern, with the book broken up into short, easy to read chapters which help allow for the story and sub-plots to flow without becoming to convoluted. As a result of this it helps motivate the reader to continue reading and want to discover where the next twist will appear or what will happen to our protagonists. The story spends a significant amount of time building characters and not getting straight to the zombie action which initially disappointed me but once I had completed the book, retrospectively I had to agree this was the most suitable for the story and my overall enjoyment.
The only writing issue I could think of with this book, speaking objectively, is that it may reference too many films with no significance or advancement of the story (although did endear the author to me as noted earlier). I also noted that there were a few scenes that reminded me either slightly or completely of film scenes (another example being when Benjamin needs to lead the zombies away he shouts “Hey over here…its a human buffet…all you can eat”— See Shaun of the Dead as Shaun leads the zombies away from the Winchester) although as mentioned previously I still cannot decide if this is a positive or negative feature for the book (or even coincidental). It is when Jasper lets loose with his own original ideas that he really shines though and I would be interested to see what else he could do.
I would describe this as a story featuring zombies and not a zombie story, due to the focus being more on character development and voodoo. This I feel was the right decision as the zombies are confined to the island and are merely pawns in a greater game and had they been given a greater role then the story would have suffered. I would recommend this book as a good read, especially if you are a fan of the films: Serpent and the Rainbow or Plague of the Zombies and want something different from the usual zombie apocalypse story lines. This has been well written and intelligently crafted to provide something different for the zombie fan.