I Am Legend by Richard Matheson


You are alone in the world surrounded by people whose only interest is in bleeding you dry. We’ve all felt like this, of course, but for Robert Neville it is a full-time job. He is the last surviving human in Los Angeles in 1976 after a plague has turned the rest of the population – absolutely everyone – into vampires. He is, for some reason, immune. This is the cheery premise of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. At night, Neville sits in his front room, drinking whiskey and listening to classical music while his undead former neighbours clamour for his blood outside. They are unable to enter the house because of the garlic garlands draped everywhere. By day, Neville tours around in his station wagon, finding vampires asleep and driving dowelling stakes through their hearts. ‘Well, what else can I do? he asked himself, for he still had to convince himself he was doing the right thing.’ As existences go, his does not have much to commend it. On the whole, Neville would probably prefer to be in Bootle. And he is running out of dowelling. Three years of living alone in this hellish environment is taking its toll. He misses his wife, who is dead. Actually, Virginia was undead for a bit, because rather than burning her corpse he buried it in a shallow grave. Bit of a mistake since she soon turned up at his door asking to be let in. Neville begins to make headway in his DIY scientific quest to find out whether bacteria, perhaps borne on the winds of post-nuclear dust storms (yes, there has been a war as well) is behind the plague. But he may be forgetting that bacteria mutates…There are some very good questions in the novel, such as why would a Muslim vampire be scared of a cross. But I Am Legend is really about what it means to be human. With, admittedly, some fairly scary scenes of impaling, dismemberment and so on. Written in the 1950s, the period it was set is no surprise at all: the 1970s was the go-to decade for dystopians – or at least, that is what it felt like at the time.


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