I decided from the get-go to put Will Smith and the movie version out of my mind, which was easier than I had anticipated. There’s no room for comedy in the book.
Written in 1954, I Am Legend reads like a contemporary novel, and doesn’t seem at all dated like I had feared. I finished it in a couple of hours; it’s very short, and of course, it left me wanting more. The story begins on a typical day in Robert Neville’s life. He’s getting the house prepared: eating, cooking, cleaning, making stakes and hanging garlic, waiting for night to fall and the vampires to arrive. They haven’t managed to get inside his house yet, but they come calling every night at sunset, shouting at him to come out.
For all Neville knows, he may be the last man on earth, sharing the world with the vampires who haunt him nightly and the infected who are confined to their homes. When we first meet him, the practical day-to-day necessities are enough to keep his mind occupied and his body as healthy as possible, but he is just existing, not living. In an effort to keep his will to survive going, he decides to turn to science and try to find out what exactly happened to destroy the world, and perhaps find a cure or a weapon against the vampire disease.
I’ve always been fascinated by the struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world and often wondered how I’d cope under such circumstances. Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand is my favourite book on this subject and it came as little surprise to read an afterword from him in I Am Legend.
I quickly became absorbed in Neville’s battle to keep existing, because that’s pretty much all you can do when the world and everything and everyone in it has gone to hell. He listens to classical music, drinks himself into oblivion and tries to make friends with a dog, possibly the last living dog as far as he knows. With such bleak subject matter and a groundhog day-like plot, we follow Neville doing pretty much the same thing every day in order to keep himself fed and defended, but Matheson’s skills as a storyteller are impressive and we never get bored of his survival routine. I was also constantly waiting for disaster to strike. Every night when the sun goes down, an ominous sense of foreboding seeps from the pages. We know Neville has done a good job of battening down the house but there’s always still a chance the vampires will break in. For me, the eeriest and most unsettling element of the book is his neighbour and old friend Ben Cortman shouting at him every night to “Come out Neville”. I did feel the ending was too rushed but overall it was an enjoyable read. ****
As to my original question: is it worth surviving the apocalypse? I’d have to say no, better to go out in the first wave than attempt to get by in a world without running water, electricity and a ready food and fuel supply. I like my modern conveniences 🙂 What do you think?
Check it out from Amazon HERE