Friday, 20 August 2010
I Am Legend
I Am Legend is a classic science fiction-horror mix that turns the old monster story clichés on their heads; Is the line between good and evil so well defined? Is man versus beast so black and white?
For Robert Neville every day is a struggle for survival. He lives alone in the suburbs of an unnamed, post-catastrophe city. By day he roams the streets looking for supplies. By night he locks himself into his home and waits for the dawn. When darkness falls Neville's home is beset by a hoard of hungry vampires, all intent on feeding on Neville's blood.
The book is one of my favourites, I have read it several times and intend to read it again soon. The book challenges the reader to really think about Neville's situation. He is alone, but at the same time he isn't. He is fighting a constant battle not just against starvation and the vampires but against the onset of complete insanity brought about by a mixture of his desperate situation, loneliness and sexual frustration. Neville is a wonderful anti-hero; regularly drinking himself to oblivion, enraged by his inability to do anything but sit in his house every night listening to the vampires outside taunting him and trying to get in.
As the story develops Neville becomes more pro-active in his approach to the vampires. He tries all manner of methods for ridding himself of them such as hunting them during the daytime and studying exotic diseases to see if the vampires are caused by some kind of infection.
There is a great deal of originality; early in the story a female vampire notices Neville has made a small hole in his front door so he can watch them. She begins exposing herself in an effort to entice him out of the house.
There is even some humour to be found in the pages. An example would be the nefarious Ben Cortman, a man who was once Neville's neighbour and has long since become a vampire. Cortman remembers enough about Neville to taunt him perhaps more efficiently than the others with his constant refrain;
“Come out, Neville!”
Neville spends a lot of time hurting Cortman almost as a way of venting his frustration at the whole situation. Before the book ends Neville has run Cortman over in his truck, tied him to a chair and attempted to torment him with a cross and shot him several times.
The opening line of the story still sends a shiver down my spine
“On those cloudy days Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back”
The end of the book has a fantastic twist and I wouldn't dream of giving it away but I will say that the book is so much more than a horror story and has truly lasted the test of time because of this. Reading it now you would never guess it was written in the 50's. Although it is a cliché this is one of those occasions when an accurate phrase would be 'ahead of its time'
As for the recent Hollywood effort staring Will Smith...this is a perfect of example of when the book blows the movie clean out of the water. I won't even dignify the movie with listing all the ways in which it is bad and the book is excellent. All I will say is that the movie was just a mindless action film whereas the book forces us to take a look at how we perceive ourselves, our society and where we fit in the grand scheme of things.
Final rating 5/5