Zombie Novel as a Work of Art? Tony Burgess’ “Pontypool Changes Everything”

May 13, 2009

When I hear the word culture. . .I reach for my gun.* So perhaps I’m not the ideal critic to proclaim a Zombie novel as a work of art. But I will say that Tony Burgess’ Pontypool Changes Everything is a ripping yarn, a great read and feels more like an indie-art novel than your typical Zombie thriller. Click on image for larger size.pontypool

A film version is due out this year, but it’s hard for me to imagine how any 2 hour movie could capture more than a fragment of what goes on in these densely packed 280 pages. I literally could not put this book down — it arrived on a Saturday afternoon and within 24 hours I finished it. It grabbed me from the first page and would not let go.

I’m going to excerpt a paragraph from the middle of the book as I think this will give you a sense of the quality of Burgess’ prose. It’s damning with faint praise to say that this is the best Zombie novel ever written. This is just a great novel, period.

In this little patch of land, a sort of smudge at the edge of a new drawing, a doomed population of wildlife was living out its final generation in manic  friendlessness. Snakes copulated on the drying scalp of the terrain. A fox scrambled back and forth along an unearthed concrete conduit. A million mites lived on the  rust from a single bard of wire. At night their eyes shone and their microscopic faces vibrated with insanity. Migrating birds that had made this a rest spot for hundreds of years now sensed that something was terribly wrong. They lit on the backs of barrels in the fat brown river, and when their young looked hungrily at a suicided worm or a grinning minnow, they clicked their beaks, sadly, “No.” At night a faint popping sound could be heard up and down the river, as weak heart valves in the young owl population strained to sustain life until morning.


*“When I hear the word culture. . .I reach for my gun” is a phrase associated with the Nazi leadership in WWII. It’s adapted from a play written in 1933 by Hanns Johst, a pro-Nazi writer and member of the Waffen SS. The play, Schlageter, a biography of the proto-Nazi martyr Albert Leo Schlageter was first performed on Hitler’s birthday to celebrate his election.

The line is actually, “When I hear the word culture. . .I release the safety on my Browning!”

This is a reference to the Browning Hi-Power Automatic Pistol, preferred by some Germans over the native Luger (the Browning held 13 shots, the Luger just 8).

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