Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

This review is incredibly difficult to write. Not because it's a bad book (it isn't), or there is an absence of symbolism, plot or substance (there isn't) but because in order to talk about what makes this book REALLY great I'd need to discuss the final 10 pages, which would give away all the details that make reading it worth it. So I'm in a little predicament, what do I include, what do I leave out? What I've decided to do is avoid discussing the plot in this review, but I will be writing an in-depth discussion post about this book for my horror blog with all the spoilers, so if you have read the book or don't care about spoilers head over there sometime in early 2012.

I Am Legend 
by Richard Matheson

Published in: 1954

Synopsis: Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood.
By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.
How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

This book is phenomenal. It is so short and compact and the storytelling is so distant until WHAM! There are a few books that I love so freaking much that I can barely discuss them because I can't form coherent sentences or discuss the book without using a whole bunch of "ZOMG" "FREAKING AWESOME" "AHFUITFHFSKLDSHGHJ!!" This is definitely one of those books, but I'm going to try really, really hard to  keep this short, succinct and helpful in case you're thinking about delving into this masterpiece.

Robert Neville is the flawed character. He is the final human being left in a world overrun by vampires, and is taunted by them every night as he tries to maintain some semblance of regular life. Obviously this is almost impossible, and as a result Neville becomes this distant, cold character who almost completely refrains from showing any real emotion or giving himself the opportunity to ever react to the things he sees each day and night. Everyone he loves is dead or transformed thanks to a medical cure gone wrong, and by the time we meet him, he's hardened and spends everyday ticking off the day's 'to do' list. Because the story follows our final man standing, it begins to resemble Robert Neville...systematic, distant, and methodical. It chops through his day like a scientist proceeds through his methodology, we watch him chop the garlic and string it into garlands, fix the wood nailed across the windows, take his meal out of the freezer and then prepare, cook and eat it. But we also follow him as he systematically makes his way across town and stakes the vampires through their hearts, or throws dead bodies into the tyre pit, or peers out the door when the vampires arrive each night to taunt and tease him.

Distant though the story is, you catch glimpses of the man that's hiding behind this tough exterior. especially as it progresses, gaining momentum and speed. You really get an idea of how hard it is to be the last man alive, and not only difficult but tedious. With only yourself for company, and the weight of the world on your shoulders, it's a slippery slope into insanity. And that's what the beauty of the this book is. It combines the enormity of being the last man on Earth and trying to find a cure (without the benefit of a science or medical education) with the tedium of day to day life and with the constant battle of emotions that threaten to destroy your mind. Ultimately Robert is an incredibly positive character. Even as he's closed off and reluctant to really think about what it is he's doing, he's still there. He's living day by day, doing what needs to be done as it needs to be done, while only allowing him the briefest moment to think about the past, the present and the future, because he knows the danger that lies in giving it to those thoughts.  I can't imagine what I'd do if I found out I was the final person alive, but I imagine I'd probably crumble fairly quickly once the enormity of it hit me. He's not perfect, and he's certainly not a warm guy, but he's possibly one of the strongest and most interesting characters I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

I'm not going to discuss any more of the plot because I think that will soon progress into me discussing the things I really shouldn't discuss. So I'm going to conclude by saying that this book is one that will make you contemplate EVERYTHING! The book raises so many issues, from medical experimentation, to personal strength, to the real essence of monstrosity and the 1000s of shades of grey that exist. I Am Legend stuck with me for quite awhile after reading it, it kept swirling questions and thoughts around my head for days and days. Forget everything else, that is the sign of an unbelievable book. It's the result of a talented author crafting an impressive story, with a lasting character in a world that is so believable it practically bleeds through the text on the page. It is phenomenal.


  1. Phew, your review just gave me chills. I've been wanting to read this book for ages, and could never find it anywhere. I've recently come across a website through which I can get a hold of old, our of print or obscure literature.
    After reading your review, I'm most likely going to order it immediately.
    Great review, I cant wait to read the book.

  2. I keep wanting to pick up a zombie book and there are so many choices nowadays. However, you may have just convinced me that I should pick up this one. Thank you.

  3. An excellent analysis of this classic novel, and especially of the character of Neville, which has helped the book endure for more than 50 years. In addition to inspiring George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it has also been formally adapted three times: as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH with Vincent Price, as THE OMEGA MAN with Charlton Heston, and under its original title with Will Smith. Each film has its strengths and weaknesses, but the first (which Matheson co-scripted, although he put his "Logan Swanson" pen name on the screenplay credit after another writer revised his work) is by far the most faithful. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (

  4. Amanda and LBC, you won't regret reading this book! I've recommended it to a couple of people who struggled to get started with it because it's quite sparsely written, but once you get further into it, it really grabs hold. Hope you like it!

  5. Sounds like an interesting book! I haven't seen the movie but I've heard about it - it seems quite different!



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