In August, I started a job in digitisation that sometimes involves hours of very repetitive work which, while it requires me to concentrate, doesn’t use nearly enough of my brain to stop me from getting distracted. The solution? Audiobooks. I’ve never been great at them in the past — I tend to zone out and miss things, and as I’m a fast reader, they’ve always seemed like a very slow way of experiencing a book. But listening to them at work is a different story. They keep me from getting bored, but they also help me to stay focused on the material I’m working with, because apparently by doing two things at once I can do both things better.
Feed is one of the very few books I’ve listened to on audio without having previously read it myself. It was a risk on multiple levels — since I’m not usually big on either zombies or audiobooks, combining the two should have meant I didn’t enjoy it. After listening to the opening page via the library’s audiobook sample, though, I wanted to give it a go. The voice and style drew me in, and in I stayed.
Since I listened to this at work, it took me a lot longer than the average book — not just in the hours spent listening rather than reading, but also because I work part-time, so it was spread out. Despite this, I stayed engaged in the story. My memory for where I’d left off was better with audio than it usually is with reading — sometimes I could even remember the exact sentence — and I found myself impatient to get back to the story.
Perhaps it’s because I lived with the characters for so much longer than I usually would that I got so attached to them — but damn, did I get attached. Mostly to Georgia “George” Mason, the narrator, who is a journalist in search of the truth and unswervingly devoted to her ‘idiot’ brother Sean (Shaun? I have no idea how the book spells anything, because audio).
I liked some of the others too, but this sibling pair was at the heart of the story for me, and they got their emotional claws into me. I’m a sucker for sibling relationships, and I loved this one: the way they were best friends and colleagues and trusted each unthinkingly the entire time.
And… the book made me cry. Anyone who’s read it will know exactly why, but I’m not going to go into details, because spoilers. But I was sitting at my desk at work, digitising a very boring document, listening to this book and trying to hide the tears in my eyes. I think the audio made it hit harder — you could hear the emotion’s in the narrator’s voice, and it just KILLED ME.
I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. Yikes.
I loved the style of the book, and I think it was really well-suited to audio. George is a blogger, and the colloquial, direct way she speaks made it feel almost like a podcast or something. Though I also think it would make a fantastic TV show: all the discussion of cameras and how shots are set up would lend itself easily to a visual setup.
What surprised me, though, was how relatable it was. Most books about zombies don’t chime with everyday life in anything like the same way as this did. George and her brother are bloggers. George tells the news; Sean/Shaun goes into danger and pokes dead things with sticks for views. They think about ratings and audience and curate their lives for outside spectators. As someone currently caught up in trying to rescue my own blog’s stats from pathetic obscurity, and who has previously had a YouTube channel, I could relate all too well to this.
George also suffers from retinal K.A. Kellous-Amberly — again, no idea how that’s spelled — is the zombie virus, and this is an inactive form of it which affects her eyes, meaning she wears medically-prescribed sunglasses and suffers from severe migraines on exposure to light. Not only was it nice to see a disabled character who still gets to be a badass, but I’ve also been suffering from light-related migraines in recent weeks, and I took some comfort in the idea that there was a character out there who knew what I was going through.
Something that marks this book out from other zombie novels of the genre is that, while the virus is created by human science, it’s not because humans are destructive or evil. The virus was intended to be a cure for the common cold, which interacted with another treatment in a way that nobody expected. In other words, it was released with the best of intentions. I sort of liked that. Even though the world Grant depicts is a negative one, filled with violence and loss of freedom and the machinations of politicians, it seems somehow hopeful at the same time.
Mostly, though, what I took away from this book was feelings. I’ve been warned that the sequels will also rip out my heart and chomp on them, but as my library doesn’t have those on audio, I think I’ll take a bit of time to stitch up these wounds before I go back into the fray.
Seriously. I am STILL not over the deaths in this book. Grant doesn’t pull a single punch. You think you know what’s coming — you think you’ve been anticipating it, preparing yourself for the moment it hits — but you’re not ready when it does. At least, I wasn’t.
(I highly recommend the audiobook, which you can get free if you sign up for an Audible trial.)
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