REVIEW: ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! – HORROR HOSPITAL / AUTHOR: MARK MORRIS / PUBLISHER: ROBINSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Stephen Jones’ Zombie Apocalypse trilogy was an anarchic and subversive treat for living dead fanatics. The plot focussed on the ‘New Festival of Britain’, a satirical quip at the state of a country gone to pot. Built over the site of a South London church, the New Festival released contaminated fleas which re-animated the dead and infected the living. Cue zombies.
Mark Morris’ Horror Hospital is as much a companion piece to Jones’ trilogy as it is its own self-contained story arc. Again the New Festival of Britain is the focal point, set in the near future with subtle historic and speculative differences; no 2012 Olympic Games and the Trafalgar Square massacre.
Set over a nine hour period, the novel is somewhere between a thriller and pulp. The chapters, identified by the change in character and time listings, present a well-paced narrative, allowing the reader to experience the unfolding infection. The black and white pictures throughout the novel, however, are as cheap-looking as they are unnecessary.
In typical Stephen King fashion, disparate characters are brought together. Cat Harris is one of the standouts, a steadfast nurse at the titular ‘horror’ Lewisham University hospital. Gill is also a pretty complex and endearing character. Morris, surprisingly, has a knack for writing believable women, but why he feels the need to tell the reader the extent of Gill’s sagging breasts remains a mystery.
The majority of the other characters, including the corned beef-gobbling Vince, are little more than parodies. The ‘gangster’ characters in particular seem more informed by urban dictionaries than by actual observations. The novel would have been altogether tighter and more entertaining without the gangland aspect, which just seems to point the finger rather than objectively representing.
The novel presents an honest, if nihilistic, portrait of London. It’s politically charged with diatribes on NHS cuts and the coalition government. While these rants are infused with vitriol, it doesn’t take the reader too far outside of the narrative. The zombie itself seems to be a metaphor to explore Britain’s political climate.
The hospital setting taps into the reader’s instinctive fears of death, decay and ageing, it’s understandably a tried and tested locale. Indeed there’s a medical and pornographic preoccupation with violence, taken to farcical extremes. The most engaging zombie stories are character driven, but Horror Hospital often opts for the easy way out.
Thomas Moreby, however, is the book's greatest folly, he’s pure pantomime with a whiff of Darren Shan about him. It’s a shame, there are some great passages throughout which gives insight into how good a novel it could have been.
While the zombie subgenre remains most prominently a visual medium, be it TV, film or video games, the Zombie Apocalypse novels prove that the living dead are just as effective in prose. While Morris is inconsistent and preoccupied with discharge and fishy metaphor, Horror Hospital is a biting satire and an entertaining read despite its flaws.