by Charlie Higson
Review by Liz de Jager
Puffin Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780141384641
Date: 03 September 2009 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
The new zombie novel from actor, television and radio writer and acclaimed author of the Young Bond novels, Charlie Higson. The Enemy is supported by a quite brilliant book trailer and web site.
"When the sickness came, every parent, policeman, politician - every adult fell 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.
But can they make it there - alive?"
Reviewed this issue by Liz de Jager.
The concept that children's novels have to mollycoddle and be safe is blown completely out of the water by Charlie Higson's take on the zombie genre in The Enemy.
We meet the Waitrose crew of youngsters who have taken refuge in a large Waitrose store in North London, barricading themselves in against the groups of adults that roam the street, preying on unwary (live) children. The kids live a tense existence, fighting packs of dogs and adults as they scour the streets for houses and shops that may still have any food which they can then take back to the store and share out amongst the others.
From the explosive start of the novel where one of the smaller kids get taken by a group of adults you know that whatever you've expected The Enemy to be like, you were wrong. The kids live ragged harsh lives of near-starvation and the author makes no bones about the stark reality.
Life outside of the store is not safe. They are aware of another group of kids in the same area – the Safeway kids – who like them; hunt the area for food, doing their best not to get caught by the adults. It is only when these two groups of kids realise that something odd is happening with the adults – they have started coordinating their attacks, acting as if they can think – that they come together and decide to find somewhere else to live.
A kid from further afield, from central London, makes it safely to their Waitrose store and as they listen to his story about a safe haven, something close to Paradise, i.e. a place where there is food and where they will be safe, you become aware how necessary it is for these kids to do something about their dire situation.
Charlie Higson has created a very bleak and realistic aftermath for an event which no one knows much about. All we ever get told is that the adults became sick, some died and some became other. They call the adults "Strangers" or "The Enemy" when they refer to them from afar, when they are engaged in hand to hand combat, these adults become something intensely personal and they are called "fathers" and "mothers". It is a very clever ploy by the author to bring immediacy and horror to the story.
The author has a light touch when it comes to characterisation and there is a palpable sense of unease throughout the book. As the children fight their way across London towards Buckingham Palace, the place where they are promised paradise and safety, they encounter wild dogs and creatures that have escaped from the zoo that have become feral. They use their wits and fighting skills to survive and they band together, the violence drawing them closer together. The author genuinely believes in pulling the rug from underneath you. Deaths occur on a regular basis and whereas some authors may have relished expounding the gore factor, the author tells it quite matter of factly and that is where the true horror lies. That you have to pick up your bag and keep moving, mourn in your own time, because you can't afford to do so over a grave, because you will be setting yourself up as a target.
The children have lived on their own for over a year, they have seen almost everything that there is to be seen when it comes to the enemy and they are prepared for it. Some of the group are highlighted and through their eyes we experience the terror and horror of their situation and instead of being overly dramatic and tedious, we run through the situations and set-ups pretty quickly, learning who are the leaders, the hunters, the enforcers, and the ones who work quietly in the background, making sure everyone keeps it together.
On a platonic level, The Enemy is a book about outsmarting the creatures that we have come to think of as zombies. They are very much a homage to Romero's movies and to Danny Boyle's excellent 28 Days Later.
On another level, the novel is about surviving – and doing what you can to keep sane and not lose your own humanity. It also comments – as an aside – on society and should something like this happen for real, do we want to go back to society as we know it? It is a very interesting book, something worthy of a second read as there are layers to the novel that you don't pick up the first time around.