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Review: I am Legend by Richard Matheson

I am Legend What makes a Legend?

I just read the book I am Legend and was pleasantly surprised that it went way beyond my expectations. What was I expecting? I guess I was expecting a book about vampires with a lot of blood drinking, stakes driving through hearts, and lusty metaphors about what happens when one partakes in sinful behaviors. That wouldn't have been all that bad but by staying away from stereotypes this book goes beyond all that and dares to ask some pretty big questions. Today, Matheson's book continues to gain a wider audience, inspire writers and film makers and its the universal questions it asks that make it a classic.

Richard Matheson is considered a master of suspense and has had a long and varied career writing novels and television episodes (The Twilight Zone, Star Trek). Many of his books have been turned into films including I am Legend which has had three films made so far. The latest film is due out soon and is sparking a renewed interest in the novel. I remember watching Omega Man a long time ago so I was eager to read the original story.

First, here's a little synopsis, which hopefully does not give away too much. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been all but wiped out by vampires. Robert Neville appears to be the only survivor. He has lost his wife - and is in constant danger. He spends all his time drinking, killing and trying not to be killed. To keep himself sane, Neville decides to research the science behind his hellish new reality in the hopes of finding a solution. The futility of his situation makes him question whether it is worth all the effort it takes to survive in this world.

Genre-wise this novel is difficult to pinpoint. It is at times horror, science fiction and psychological thriller. It is to Matheson's credit that he can cross genres and I think this is in part why the story has such mass appeal. Another reason is that despite being written in the 50's it is still relevant today and doesn't feel dated. I found it easy to read because of this.

Surprisingly this is a dark novel with very little action. My one complaint with the novel is Matheson's sparse style made it feel like I was reading a laundry list at times. Despite this, Matheson's skill for plot twists and building suspense makes for an unpredictable story. It definitely saves the book and kept me reading. While it is not be a literary masterpiece, it does ask the fundamental question: is life worth living? And any book that does that is worth reading.

Comments (2)

What you said you were expecting is exactly what I expect of all vampire books, which is why I don't read them. But maybe I have been blindly prejudiced.

I too steer clear of Vampire books for that very reason you mentioned.

TIme to re-look.