★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Malcolm Devlin.
In the increasingly fast-paced world of horror sometimes it’s really nice to bathe in a simple and pastoral story. The intensity of fast zombies, flying chainsaws, and hyper-speed ghouls has a time and place, but it’s also a nice bit of calm when the characters and the story unfold in a relaxed and less apocalyptic way.
The new novel by Malcolm Devlin, And Then I Woke Up, is precisely that novel which allows the reader to slowly roil in a zombie plague. In this case the zombies are very much a secondary plot device to a much larger and more insidious depiction of the lengths that governments across the globe will go to propagandize every last morsel of public information.
And Then I Woke Up could have easily fit in to Max Brooks’ zombie opus, World War Z, as a single story, but Malcolm Devlin stretches out this confined space with a full blown novel. It’s not a terribly long novel mind you, but it fills the story of the zombie plague rather nicely.
The book follows the first person narrative of Spence a young man who finds himself in mental institution, Ironside. Perfectly happy to be within the protected perimeters of this mental institution, Spence meets Leila a quiet and reserved woman who’s convinced that there’s more life beyond the walls of Ironside. Spence and Leila make their break and go in search of the remaining people, places, and things that have yet fallen prey to the insidious zombie outbreak.
Much like 28 Days Later, And Then I Woke Up deals with the more mundane aspects of zombie apocalypse. The zombies aren’t everywhere, they’re not piled one on top of another, and there are ways to tread lightly through the outbreak without becoming one of the….LIVING DEAD.
Devlin metes out a peculiar narrative structure that feels and reads more like a languid dream. It’s not forced, it’s not rushed, and there’s very few pages containing panic or exigence-paced zombie dread. And Then I Woke Up meanders like a nice stroll in a pastoral countryside. Devlin shows us that the zombies are indeed a threat, but there may very well be darker threats to contend with in the world.
Spence is forced to contend with his reality by consistently reviewing his own personal narrative and begins many sections for the book by repeating his own reminder “This is what happened.” He’s reassuring himself, but he’s also grasping to understand the complexities of government-sponsored propaganda. As he’s trying to piece all the parts of the zombie epidemic together in his head he comes to the realization that “It must been madness, but both Leila and I, trapped in our Rip Van Winkle apocalypse dreams, missed it all.”
If zombies have taught us anything the pandemic is rarely about the zombies. Ever since the likes of 1932’s White Zombie and 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, zombies have always been a reflection of societal foibles and incongruities. Race, greed, consumerism, and now mischievous government propaganda. If you think the zombie genre is dead, then think again. Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up is a new, unique, and thought provoking entry in to a (nearly) dead genre.