Monday, December 26, 2011
Book Review: Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
I discovered this novel from watching the film based loosely on the novel. The film Pontypool was released a few years back and quickly gained a rep for being a well written and composed low budget zombie film. When I saw it I thought it was a creative spin on the tired genre, most interesting at it's core was a original concept of the the zombie virus being transferred not by blood or bites but trhough human language. I was interested in novel because it was written by Burgess who also wrote the screen, and during the commentary track he said the novel had a larger scope.
Probably due to it's thin budget the movie takes place at a small radio station in Ontario, and focuses on the main character an aging former shock jock named Grant Mazzy. Mazzy keeping his career alive by doing weather reports on backwater radio. The film gets a lot of of it's rich tones by Stephen McHattie's performance as Mazzy. Since the setting is confined mostly to the station the actors have to carry a lot of the story. It's a character driven horror film, that manages to transcend it's budget like a lot of great low budget horror films.
So I was excited by the idea of reading the book. This is a rare case where I think the movie is a lot better than the source material. They are very, very different stories and while they share Grant Mazzy as a main character and plot device the novel lacks the vivid strength of character which drove the film.
Burgess is an excellent word smith, I can honestly say it's some of the smoothest and interesting prose I have read in a long time. That being said writing pretty paragraphs and telling a good story are two totally different things. I spent a lot of my time reading this novel confused, and according to some of the online reviews I was wasn't alone.
I don't mind being confused if the story is exciting and it's important that the confusion is paid off with answers. There are some intense and powerful moments in this book that's why I kept reading even though I was often frustrated and confused by the lack of clear narrative. Since the zombie outbreak is transferred through the language there are some very well composed moments of suspense that happen inside the mind of the infected. I also enjoyed the moments where some characters tried hard not speak at all.
This novel is clever, perhaps a bit to clever for it's own good. Could the novel itself spiral into maddess of disrupted language like the victims in the story. Maybe, but I didn't really see that either. It's an interesting experiment, one I don't think worked. I'll admit many I didn't get it, but I am a pretty savy reader, who has personally played with experimental narratives, so if I don't get it then it is a good chance most readers will be lost.
So here is the hard part for me, I respect the well written inventive prose but can't make much sense of the story. This made the book a slog, and I can't say I enjoyed much of it. The movie expressed the idea in a more clearly, and succeeded as a story.