Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb: Robert Neville is the last man left alive on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire. Neville spends his days scavenging for food and supplies, and hunting down the undead in their lairs in the ruins of civilisation. At night, he becomes the hunted and barricades himself in his home, waiting and praying for the dawn.

I Am Legend was one of the first, and certainly the most brilliant, fusions of horror and science fiction. Its powerful and disturbing reworking of the vampire myth has made it a classic and enduring novel that has had a profound impact on generations of writers

Thoughts: Having seen Omega Man and the recent Will Smith movie adaptation and heard a few different people talking about the differences in the book I managed to put together a strange 'ideal' composite of what I imagined this novel to be, leaving me in the strange situation of having three stories going through my mind whilst reading an entirely different fourth one. Not exactly condusive to enjoying a book most of the time but in this instance failing at dampening the pleasure I got from reading Matheson's wonderful novel.

It was and is very difficult to analyse this without comparing it to the movies, it's possible for example that if I had been unaware of the storyline this might have received a 5 star review, but as it is it may take additional readings for me to make that distinction.

For now I will simply tell you that aside from being a powerful insight in to human loneliness and an intriguing premise of the last man standing amongst a spreading bacteria it is also a science fiction novel of the highest quality (whether the science used is correct or not it matters little to me, it is the presentation of the ideas that carries all the greats of the genre in my mind) and contains passages of prose that will leve you breathless in empathy and anticipation.

I know little of the vampire legends and myths, I don't generally read books about vampires or vampirism, but Matheson gives you a strong grounding in it and then attempts to poke and prod the silliness of them; his assuredness that crosses will only work on Christian vampires and Mohammedan vampires would simply drink your blood when faced with a crucifix was a particular favourite revelation of mine. And the way the novel ends left me near certain that this has been integral to a lot of the more interesting developments in vampire novels/movies of recent times such as Sergei Lukyanenko nightwatch trilogy and Blade.

All in all I can't recommend this novel highly enough.

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  1. Ah, a book I've actually read and enjoyed immensely. Haven't seen either film though...

    1. There's a third one i neglected to mention: vincent price in the last man on earth. A bit of a b-movie but more faithful to the book than the other two.

  2. I just did a book vs. movie post on this a few weeks ago! I agree that it's almost impossible to compare the two; they're two completely different approaches to a story that is only similar on the most basic level.

    Also in describing this book in conversation, I realized that it probably suffers somewhat from being categorized as a "vampire" or sci-fi book; like you said, it's really more about loneliness, introspection, and the moral and intellectual debate over what is considered acceptable by society. The part that I found most jarring was the woman's reaction to Neville's description of how simple it is to kill the vampires.. such a unique and fascinating approach to the topic.

    1. I'll try to remember to visit your post on that when I get back in to the swing of things. Sounds like you really got to grips with the themes. The "reveal" if you can call it that was powerful stuff, as you say, all down to the womans reaction.