[Book Review] World War Z by Max Brooks

I have never watched the movie, World War Z (2013), and I don’t really have plans to, though it’s possible that may change since a fair number of people have told me it’s actually not too bloody and the characters aren’t too grotesque-looking, so I may be able to stomach it.  We’ll see, I suppose, haha.  As loyal followers of this blog should know by now, I just don’t do horror…well, unless it’s in book form.  While reading text, I can control how wild my imagination gets, so for the most part I can handle the genre in book form; I would only have myself to blame for any resulting nightmares.

ImageI’m the type of person where, if I’m curious about the plot of a horror movie, and if there’s a book available that it was based on, then I do go on ahead and get a copy of the book.  With the exception of Stephen King and maybe even Agatha Christie and Ransom Riggs (not sure if the latter two are even remotely considered part of the horror genre), I generally don’t tend to buy books from this genre and prefer to borrow them from the library instead.  Mostly because I feel a majority of horror stories are like action-packed blockbuster movies; just a brief adrenaline shot, but no real replay/reread value over the long term.

That is exactly how I felt about my reading experience World War Z, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

From what I understand, the book is quite different from the movie.  In fact—while I can’t say for sure since I haven’t actually seen the movie—if the trailers for it are anything to go by, the movie is mostly focused on one central character while the book is formatted as a compilation of interviews with people who are survivors of the crisis.

For informed opinions of the movie, I now direct you to some of my favorite bloggers, each of whom bring their own flavor to writing movie reviews, but all of whom I think are very good writers.  Here they are, listed below, in no particular order (the links link directly to their World War Z movie review on their respective websites):

3 Guys 1 Movie – Three guys, three perspectives, and a unique rating system.  Hilarity ensues with just about every entry, and they do the occasional contest too.  Be sure to check out their blog store, as they’ve got blog apparel you can purchase.
Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews – Want to see it, but you’re on the fence about it?  Well Dan here probably already has seen it, and is very thorough and honest in his reviews, not to mention fair.

Blank Page Beatdown – Unique, witty, and recently revamped.  Your source on all things Bollywood, in addition to a wide range of other films.  You want entertaining rants?  Shah is your man.

All these guys have Twitter accounts, so be sure to follow them!

Anyway, back on track about the book…

The descriptions, I thought, were strong.  I was able to “see” more of certain scenes than I actually would have liked.  I also didn’t mind the interview format, though the skipping back and forth in time was a little confusing on occasion.

The dialogue was strong in some areas, and weak in others.  I have heard and can see what other readers meant about how all the characters start to sound the same after a while—they do.  I especially noticed this during the interview with the Korean soldier.  If I’m remembering correctly, the narrator had interpreters for interviewees that spoke anything other than English.  There were plenty of words that the Korean character used that I don’t actually think could be expressed due to vocabulary limitations in the language.  In a way, I was reminded of subtitles in movies and I’ve always found interesting how those are usually hit or miss.  Either the person subtitling takes too many liberties and gives the dialogue a totally different meaning, or the subtitles say too little and miss the main point.  I could say more about it, but that’s a discussion better left for another time.

I think the biggest drawbacks of the book would probably have to be, in part, because the story is told in a series of interviews, we never really get a chance to feel very invested in any of the characters, and we never really see any of them again, except for maybe when they are mentioned by other interviewers in passing.  In short, the cast of characters is huge, and while it works if one pretends the book’s dialogue as a documentary of sorts, it can be rather difficult for some readers to maintain their interest; I know I certainly did by the time I reached the book’s end.  Of course, by then, the problem was an entirely different issue—the interviews became so short and filled with “empty” information that their stories made the book end with a whimper and a whine.  I’ve heard from those who have both read the book and watched the movie that the movie is a lot more entertaining, but it really probably just depends on the person.

FINAL VERDICT: C

So for some odd reason this draft was left and marked as “unfinished” in my queue for a while, and I have no idea why.  I’ve read a ton of books and watched a fair number of movies since I first started this entry, so hopefully I’ll my thoughts on all those all out soon!

4 responses to “[Book Review] World War Z by Max Brooks

  1. Hey Rae, long time!

    I’m surprised you didn’t enjoy the book. (I haven’t read it) Because a lot of the complains you had about the book, were what people said they didn’t like about the movie, when comparing it with the book. No character development, no depth, etc.

    I found the story, as good stories are, was better served in the movie when it focused around 1 character, and not… the world. The movie is a PG-13 Zombie movie, so all the gruesome stuff is off screen, nothing gory. Which again, was a complaint in most of he reviews I read. But I feel if you can make a Zombie that can be watched by everyone, why not? Nolan’s Batman movies were PG-13, yet I didn’t see anyone complaining about not enough violence and blood…?

    Nice work Rae.

    • But are the zombies like creepy looking? Hahaha, because even that might make me not enjoy watching it. If it’s like how they look in the Warm Bodies trailer though, I think I might be able to handle it. I do think it’s better to focus on one character then a whole slew of them, unless a person is willing to write a book of epic proportions to really flesh everything out. Kind of like some foreign classic novels are. Some of those books are quite thick.

      I think the violence people expect from zombie movies is different from what they expect out of a superhero movie though. I think they’re looking for a more horrific experience; I couldn’t even begin to understand why, but that’s only because it’s not my cup of tea.

      • The zombies are pretty plain. Just more sunken cheeks, pale skin, some blood on them, that kinda thing. Nothing hanging or graphically dismembered, from what I can remember anyways. Some thought they were laughable actually. lol.

        It’s a different medium. Books vs. Movies. You can do a movie with 10 characters, and give them each a backstory and build character, even with 5 minutes of screen time per character, based on what you SHOW, rather than tell, and still have time to go into the bigger plot of the movie. It’s all about how it’s managed. A book is harder, because you have to TELL everything that you want to communicate to the audience. More words, more space, more content and the end result is longer / larger. So… it’s possible, but not always adaptable.

        I thought it was a change from the usual gore. But I understand how some people feel that Zombies are synonymous with blood and guts.

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