14 of 52 – I Am Legend

I just finished reading I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It was quite a short book so didn’t take me long to get through. I was intrigued by it, considering that I enjoyed the premise of the film.

Without losing the horror, it presents vampirism as a disease whose secrets can be unlocked by scientific tools. The hero Robert Neville, perhaps the last uninfected man on Earth, finds himself in a paranoid nightmare. By night, the bloodthirsty undead of small-town America besiege his barricaded house: their repeated cry “Come out, Neville!” is a famous SF catchphrase. By day, when they hide in shadow and become comatose, Neville gets out his wooden stakes for an orgy of slaughter. He also discovers pseudoscientific explanations, some rather strained, for vampires’ fear of light, vulnerability to stakes though not bullets, loathing of garlic, and so on. What gives the story its uneasy power is the gradual perspective shift which shows that by fighting monsters Neville is himself becoming monstrous–not a vampire but something to terrify vampires and haunt their dreams as a dreadful legend from the bad old days.

The book really is very different from the film. It strikes me as quite a low key book; it’s more about the daily life of the last man on earth than a gory horror-fest. The writing is simple and easy to understand, he gets to the point fast which is good in some cases but not so good in others. It’s certainly very different from Stephen King’s writing style. It’s also interesting the way different situations which are absolutely horrible are portrayed mostly as mundane things; it’s interesting because it shows the ways that humanity can become used to anything.

Of course I wouldn’t say this is a challenging read, I wouldn’t even say I immensely enjoyed it. It was good, it was interesting, but judging from this I probably wouldn’t read Richard Matheson again.


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