I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

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I Am Legend is a post-apocalyptic science fiction with elements of horror, from 1954. It contains tropes which would be adopted by more popular films and media; the undead arising from a virus, and a lone man holding out against them resourcefully.

However, rather than action and violence, the novel is occupied primarily by the protagonist’s isolation. There are different ways that Neville deals with being lonely; menial labour, intellectual pursuits, spells of self-indulgent pity, and escapism by the large consumption of whiskey, cigarettes, and classical music records. The author explores these coping devices and their toll in a straightforward way that is not prescriptive. For example, we are not discouraged from drinking, but we see both the necessary solace that it provides, as well as reckless behaviour. Furthermore, busywork is all well and good, but it is not enough on its own to salve the soul. Matheson, then, seems to be recommending moderation in things.

This is more of a novella than a novel, being 150 pages long. The prose is plain and broken into small chapters, and so it is an easily digested read.

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