Friday, July 22, 2011
The Enemy - Charlie Higson
Author: Charlie Higson
Australian Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Date of Publication: September 2009
Length: 410 pages
From Penguin: When the sickness came, every parent, police officer, politician - every adult - felt ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. Only children under fourteen remain, and they're fighting to survive.
Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city - down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground - the grown ups lie in wait.
I’m going to try and keep this review fairly straight-forward and ramble-free (with minimal fan-girling – which may be a bit of a struggle), but straight-up, I loved this book and will say it’s probably my favourite zombie story from my 2011 reading list so far. Higson has crafted a dynamic story, peppered with real voices and engaging characters.
The Enemy introduces us to a number of characters, and is really an ensemble piece. It begins with the two separate groups – the Waitrose gang and the Morrison kids (distinguished by which supermarket they are hiding out in, as well as more of a social distinction as to where they shopped prior to the sickness taking hold of their parents). What I loved about The Enemy is that even though there are multiple characters, Higson’s writing gives us enough detail and description that we can easily bond with many of them (I tend to find in most stories with ensembles there are characters I love and I tend to skip sections that don’t focus on them as heavily in order to get back to the ‘good parts’). There is a fantastic mix of characters – lovely Arran, hot-headed Achilleus, Maxie, Blue, the chav with a heart of gold, Whitney, plus the deliciously villainous David King. Despite most of the characters falling in the younger end of YA fiction, Higson throws them some very tough blows (certainly not holding anything back!) and it’s really interesting to watch how this group of personalities play out as the situation worsens.
The Enemy has two main narrative threads running throughout – the first is that of the Waitrose kids (before they join with the Morrison gang) and their journey to Buckingham Palace in the hopes of surviving the spreading sickness and constant threat of attacks from infected adults. The second is the heartbreaking story of small Sam, a younger boy who is separated from the group and his attempts to make it back to them (with a group of infected parents, cannibals and some pretty scary stuff for a nine-year-old to deal with). Higson’s writing covers quite classical themes – survival in a harsh world, the effects of a class structure, and abuse of power in a way that’s still accessible to a younger reader.
I feel like I should warn you, it’s not a ‘nice’ zombie story. I think it’s a pretty realistic telling of what could happen in the aftermath of a virus outbreak in a cosmopolitan city. Higson reveals in some pretty gory details (seriously, his descriptions of infected parents are full of puss-gobules and rotten skin). The Enemy is also fairly violent (with plenty of Tallahassee worthy zombie kills) and is pretty much action-packed for the bulk of the 400+ pages. I also really loved the setting of this novel, and found it fun (and creepy in a 28 Days Later kind of way) to read about London attractions either abandoned post-outbreak or re-purposed by kids).
If you aren't squeamish, enjoy fast-paced stories (and one that also make you think) with a decent side-helping of creepy, infected grown-ups, then The Enemy is certainly a book for you!