Verdict:★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The idea of the dead rising back to life is one that has been targeted through many art forms. Our culture is currently obsessed with the ‘zombie’ genre, Brad Pitt’s latest endeavour ‘World War Z’ is a highlight of this. However, The Returned does not fall into this typical zombie category. Characters may be returning from the dead, but they are not brainless creatures with the sole ambition to kill the living; these ‘zombies’ have preserved the personalities of the bodies that they left one, ten or even fifty years ago. They can walk, talk and yes, they are on the hunt for their families.
Harold and Lucille have spent their breathing life stuck in a version of the living limbo since their eight year old son drowned in 1966. The couple receive a knock on the door one day and on their doorstep stands an agent, Martin Bellamy, and with him is a young boy, Jacob: their son. Although, Harold and Lucille aren’t the only ones experiencing a reunion with a deceased family member; the whole world is faced with the dead coming back to life.
This is not a novel of hows: How did Jacob die? How are the dead returning to Earth? How are some people coming back and others not? It is instead an experiment on how individuals will cope with seeing their loved ones, who they had accepted they would never look in the eye, again. It is a story about trying to do things differently when you thought that you had lost the chance. It is a poem about peace.
The reason why I was interested in reading The Returned was because I thought it resembled the French television show of the same name. Surprisingly it turned out to be different in many ways. The television show captures our imagination as a mystery, whilst Mott’s version fascinates our human psychology.
Mott gave hints to the way the novel could have gone down if his philosophy was different. We realistically see how those in power tried to take charge by locking the returned and supporters up. Yet the novel doesn’t bother to go to great lengths in showing how the Government’s plan unfolds. Similarly many returnees are given two page chapters on how this reliving experience is for them. One very interesting perspective illustrated that some NAZI supporters have returned. Yet these intriguing ideas are never really showcased as Mott doesn’t go into detail about these characters.
Instead Mott focused on the area of Arcadia Valle in Missouri. This real community was represented as somewhere extremely rural and backwards, making it work well with the less dramatic storyline. When Harold and Jacob are kept in confinement it does make you lose focus for a while. Although, it is necessary that the father and son are locked up as this allows them to bond in ways they were finding it difficult to do so outside.
Within the story the characters emotions would rightfully change drastically, but some I found more realistic than others. From the beginning I thought it would be Harold that I would gain a firm disliking to. His inability to be grateful that his son had returned was quite upsetting. Although, by the end it was him who I felt the most connected with and this was an extreme role reversal compared to Lucille. As her character progressed she becomes the only one who would challenge the new normal. But this crescendo in the book seemed unrealistic to her character. Also, I found her letter contradictory to her passion and happiness at the beginning of the book.
Furthermore Pastor Robert Peters was one I gathered a great disliking too. When the actions of God are questioned in a story it is common for there to be a Pastor whose beliefs are challenged as a consequence. This is always interesting to analyse, however, it was upsetting to look at Peters as almost a fraud in the end. We tend to put our hands in faith when something goes wrong in our life, but this just shows that Pastors are pure human and this can crumble our hopes to have someone to look up to in a bad situation.
The concept in itself has a lot it could have worked with. Some readers may not enjoy the route Mott has chosen to go down. However, I believe Mott has been successful in his debut novel in conveying the ideas he wished to emplace on the reader. Those ideas he confessed to us within his emotional Author’s Note.