Handling the Undead

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Handling the Undead (Swedish: Hanteringen av odöda) is a 2005 horror novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, translated into English in 2009. The book revolves around the unexplained reanimation of thousands of recently deceased people in Stockholm.

The plot focuses on the reactions of society and the many conflicts that arise between Swedish authorities and the relatives of the undead; the horror is less in the uncanny animation of corpses but in the realities of grief, loss and our own inevitable mortality. An important theme is the bond between parents and children.

A Swedish film adaptation has reportedly been in development since 2005, based on a screenplay by Lindqvist and directed by Kristian Petri. It's being produced by Tre Vänner Produktion AB and the release date is yet to be announced.

Tropes used in Handling the Undead include:
  • Blank Slate/Empty Shell: The zombies. They have no will of their own, but react to the emotions of those around them.
  • Our Souls Are Different: They look like butterflies. Eventually. First, though, they look like caterpillars.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Anyone who died on a certain night or up to roughly two months before it Came Back Wrong.
    • They aren't generally dangerous, at least not in the ways zombies usually are. They aren't infectious and don't eat people.
    • Their physical and mental condition is more or less realistic for corpses, which is to say, horrible. The "healthiest" zombie is a woman who died minutes before the awakening event in a car accident; she's damaged from the accident but could pass for alive otherwise. Most other zombies are decayed and/or embalmed, might be missing parts, are falling apart and smell horrible.
    • They enable Telepathy in people around them somehow. People who spend time near zombies can hear the thoughts of each other. Zombies act as mirrors for thoughts and emotions, acting as people expect them to sometimes.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Early on we see ethereal white grub-like things near zombies. It seems to be an alien force that's responsible for the zombies. Subverted. The white things aren't grub-like, they're caterpillar-like. Because they're the souls of the zombies, going back into them.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Subverted. The dead come back to life, but they aren't after brains.
    • Played with in other ways as well. Even though the zombies aren't threatening, they still frighten people and upend society. They even cause Telepathy in people around them and react to what people think of them. The societal breakdown that they caused is partially a result of peoples' expectations.