A Good Night for Shooting Zombies

A Good Night For Shooting Zombies was written by Jaco Jacobs and published in 2013 under the title Oor ‘n motorfiets, ‘n zombiefliek en lang getalle wat deur elf gedeel kan word. As of October 2018, it has been made available in English for the very first time, been shortlisted for the Found in Translation Award and made into a successful film in Afrikaans. The novel tells the story of two boys who make friends over filming a zombie movie. It is a stand alone novel, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

The last few years have been pretty miserable for Martin. His father was killed in a tragic car accident and his family refuse to talk about it. In his free time, Martin looks after his father’s chickens which has earned him the nickname “Clucky”. That is, until one of his chickens is killed by his neighbour’s dog and his life changes forever.

The dog turns out to belong to a teenage boy named Vusi, who his seriously ill with cancer. Although he is initially furious with Vusi, Martin finds it difficult to stay angry as he starts to bond with the boy over his love of zombie films. Vusi dreams of making a film of his own but worries this will never be a reality. His parents are highly protective of him and reluctant to even let him go outside.

With Martin’s help, Vusi finds away that he can slip away and, with the help of local tomboy Chris, they start to piece together their film in secret. However, when they uncover the hideout for a gang of thieves, they suddenly find themselves in more trouble than they ever could have imagined. Will it be possible to finish the film without attracting the attention of some very dangerous men?

A Good Night for Shooting Zombies is certainly a very unique novel, but it might not quite be what you were expecting. If you were attracted by its title and bright cover as I was, you might be in for a bit of a shock. The book is not a horror comedy by any means. It is actually a work of contemporary fiction that focuses on the heart-warming friendship between two young boys, which grows stronger as the two try to make their own movie. While this isn’t an entirely original concept (it carries the shade of Son of Rambow), it is a fun idea that does a great job of showing kids being kids. However, it unfortunately also has its share of problems.

My biggest issue with A Good Night for Shooting Zombies was its pacing. This novel is aimed at middle grade readers but, even with that in mind, it feels incredibly short. Much like A Monster Calls, it was one of those stories that aims to explain the concept of death and terminal illness in a way the young readers can understand. However, the problem was that the novel was too short and too busy to develop these themes. Due to the focus on the zombies, the thieves and Martin’s chicken enterprise, there isn’t enough time spent on Vusi and his illness. Other than Martin occasionally commenting on him looking pale, it did not seem to affect him that much.

The plot thread concerning the thieves also felt as though it was a bit tacked on. This failed to add any tension to story as it was not introduced until late in the tale, and was over before it had a chance to begin. In fact, I personally felt as though it was completely out of place. The rest of the story was about friendship. It was about three young people who bonded over making a movie. It really didn’t gain anything from having a late-stage subplot in which they foil a gang of petty thieves. Especially as these thieves just happened to have a random (and fairly vague) connection to Martin’s family.

Still, the novel at least was fun and was satisfying as a quick read. Although it was too brief to make much of an impression, I did enjoy the scenes that focused on Martin and Vusi actually making the movie. It was clear that it was a always a labour of love, showing that neither boy truly knew what they were doing but were having fun doing it. The choice of making a movie about the living dead also helped to add some weight to the metaphor of confronting death, as Vusi faces his fears about his illness and Martin tries to move on following his father’s death.

Yet the ending of the novel was a little too abrupt for my tastes. I won’t talk about this too much here as I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I did feel that it was just a bit too neat. The epilogue of the novel reveals that one major event actually occurs off-page, which came as a bit of shock. While this frustrated me a lot, I was more annoyed by the way that every single plot thread ties itself up over the last couple of pages. While I am certain that some readers will love this, it was just too easy for my liking.

In terms of characterisation, the two protagonists were very strong and certainly felt like thirteen-year-old boys. The novel did a great job of showing what life was like for them as they grew up in a poor area of South Africa, subtly indicating both the poverty and dangers of their home town. While the novel was too short for me to get fully attached to them, they were at least likeable. However, it would have been nice to have seen more female characters in the novel. While Chris is awesome, she doesn’t really appear enough to make an impression.

I also found that Martin’s mode of speech was sometimes annoying. Again, this is something that readers will either love or hate. While Martin is not strictly described as being on the spectrum, he has an obsession with numbers that makes him come across a little clinical. While this was a unique quirk for his character, it did sometimes detract from some of the otherwise dramatic scenes. It did not seem to add much to the story and so it seemed slightly strange to spend so much time focusing on it.

Anyhow, I think that I’ve probably said enough. A Good Night for Shooting Zombies was enjoyable enough for a light read, but lacked any real depth. Perhaps if it had been a bit longer it would have had a chance to develop its themes and become something truly special. Ultimately, I was disappointed to find that it was a bit forgettable.

A Good Night for Shooting Zombies can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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