In brief: What happens when dead people start returning to the families and loved ones they left behind? Is this real – a sign of a calamitous future or an otherworldly gift?
The good: Handled with an incredible sensitivity.
The not-so-good: Those looking for a zombie filled apocalypse will be disappointed – this is thinking fantasy.
Why I chose it: Sent to me by Harlequin Australia – thank you!
Pages: 340 (ARC)
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
When I first looked at The Returned, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not much of a fantasy fan and sci-fi dystopian stuff scares me. However, after hearing about the buzz this book has created around the world – a TV series already in development and lots of word of mouth reviews , I decided to try it out. (In daylight – because I don’t want to dream of zombies and the living dead!)
Immediately, I was stunned at how sensitively Jason Mott writes – this book is a love letter to the dearest we’ve lost, a heartfelt tribute to the dead. No way does this book belong with the zombies – I’d call this literary fiction with a speculative twist. It’s beautiful.
Let me tell you a little more about the plot – the book focuses on an elderly couple, Harold and Lucille, who lost their son back in the 1960s. One day Jacob returns to their doorstep – he hasn’t aged, but of course they have. Is this really Jacob? How can their dead son return to life? All around the world, dead people are returning to the world of the living. The reception by their loved ones is variable, as is the response of the general public. Some want to remove The Returned permanently, some think they should be treated the same as the living. As tensions build, restrictions are placed on The Returned and Harold and Lucille’s little country town becomes a refugee camp. The locals are getting angry and supplies are getting low…
I loved how Mott tenderly crafted the responses of the living to their Returned. Harold is a classic example – he’s the one who found the dead Jacob, so how can he believe that this boy really is his son? Lucille turns to God, explaining it as a miracle – she’s proud of her son and will do anything to protect him. A mother’s love knows no boundaries. Lucille’s pastor is faced with a Returned teenage lover, but now he’s married. Should he reconcile with his lost love, even though he’s aged 20 years in the meantime? Can your love change? Mott introduces a number of interesting concepts – what happened if your spouse returned to life, but you’ve remarried? How can a Returned family keep the family together when they’re being hunted? What steps would you go to to protect your family – living or dead?
I found the plot pleasantly refreshing, as I wasn’t sure how the matter would be resolved. It’s also a credit to Mott that he didn’t take the obvious plotline for the outspoken against The Returned to suddenly change faith by having a loved one return to life. The camp conditions brought to mind the ongoing refugee debate in Australia – who are we to decide who should be imprisoned for being who they are? The tension as the finale builds is magnificent and the aftermath gracefully serene as the tempo slows. Make sure you read Mott’s Author’s Note at the end – it sent chills down my spine as he explained the motivation for The Returned.
This is a beautifully written book that will have you reaching out to your loved ones and pondering a number of big questions. Don’t confine it to a genre, this is a book for all of us that will remain in our thoughts for a long time.
The Returned has also been made into a television series called Resurrection. In Australia it is screening on Channel 7.
* The Returned is available for purchase at http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au/ or all good book stores nationally for the RRP $29.99 (AUD)