There’s plenty of post-apocalyptic fiction out there these days—and a lot of it is quite bad. British horror writer David Moody’s novel, Hater, is one of the rare exceptions.
Published in 2006 by Thomas Dunne Books, Hater is the first of a trilogy—and is followed by Dog Blood (2010) and Them or Us (2011). And it seems a film of Hater may be imminent: there’s a producer, a script, and several interested parties.[i] Fingers crossed!
Moody does so many things right in Hater. The narration, for one, is compelling, as we see events unfold through the eyes of a distinctly ordinary character, one who (like most of us) has no ready aptitude for the cataclysm that confronts him. Danny McCoyne is shiftless and unmotivated, shuffling through his deadening life while expending as little effort as possible. In his late twenties, he has had a series of jobs for the council, being demoted from one to the next, and when the novel opens he “works” (although he tries hard not to) in the Parking Fine Processing office, mostly dealing (ineptly) with irate people who’ve had their cars clamped or been given parking tickets.
Danny has a wife, Lizzie, and three children—Ed, Ellis, and Josh. It says something about Danny that all of them were mistakes. Think Shaun of the Dead—with children.
The pacing is another masterful aspect of this novel. Out of the blue, people start violently attacking others, intent on killing them. Danny witnesses several such attacks—on the way to work, at a club, in a pub—but it takes a while before he starts to grasp the enormity of what’s happening. The TV news, too, starts reporting outbreaks—anomalous, at first—riots, perhaps. But pretty soon the media is amping up the scale of the “pandemic” and then trying to diagnose it—mass hysteria, emotional contagion, a virus, perhaps. Then, most ominously, all channels go off the air, broadcasting simply a warning that everyone should stay calm, stay alert, stay where they are. The government apparently has things under control, which does little to reassure anyone.
Before total media silence, Danny and his family learn that the affected (possibly infected) people are being dubbed “Haters,” not least because they turn on others without discernible cause. About one-third of the population is suddenly given over to a driving force, to an overwhelming and single-minded rage, to an urge to destroy.
The “Haters” may indeed be filled with seething anger, but one question Moody’s novel poses is the extent to which the Haters’ rage may be connected to the banal anger, the constant petty annoyance and aggravation, that everyone seems to express in this novel. In fact, that’s one place where Hater diverges from Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004). In the latter, affability and apathy were the default emotions. In Hater, it’s rage. Life is boring, impoverished, sordid, a constant struggle—and everyone is bitter. Is there a relation, the novel asks, between the mundanity of being pissed off and the outbreak of Hater rage?
Certainly Danny is constantly angry—at his boss, his wife, his father-in-law, his kids (who seem to do nothing but wake him up, demand food and insist they be allowed to watch TV). Indeed, wondering whether Danny’s anger portends his eventual transformation into a Hater is one of the pleasures of reading Moody’s novel. We finally find out (about whether Danny is a Hater)—and the answer may well say something about the cause of this civilization-destroying outbreak. Moody makes us wait until near the end of the novel, though, to find out Danny’s role in this new world (more great pacing).
Another provocative question Hater raises: what is the relationship (if there is one) between the uprising of the Haters—the emergent and absolute divide between Haters and non-Haters—and our own periodic political uprisings: Danny even thinks, at one point, about the race riots that had erupted several months ago. And his father-in-law seems ready to blame it all, at first, on degenerate youth. The book jacket even points up some kind of relation to the typical divisions of social identity, remarking that “everyone, irrespective of race, class, or any other difference, has the potential to become a victim—or a Hater.”
Is Moody allegorizing contemporary social schisms—mapping divisions of race or religion, for instance, onto Hater and non-Hater? That’s one reading, certainly. And, if so, Moody seems to be making a couple of points about such divisions. First, the novel would suggest they have no real cause—Haters attack others for no particular reason. And, second, the novel suggests that warring groups are more alike than different—bound up in a reciprocal hatred that only looks different from the outside. The victims see only the Haters’ irrational rage: they are terrified and try to defend themselves. However, when we get the perspective of Haters themselves, Haters, in turn, see only hatred coming from the non-Haters, and they too, are only trying to defend themselves.
I think in the end, though, Moody is less interested in allegorizing the differences that divide us than in escaping them, providing a fantasied alternative. There’s a clarity about the stark Hater/non-Hater divide that expresses a desire to transcend the increasingly complicated and tangled webs of social identity. Hater gives us a world of two powerful opposed forces—not a world of “microaggressions.” It’s a world divided into “Them or Us” (the title of the third book in the trilogy), not a world where the line between, say, Muslim, radical Muslim, extremist, terrorist, and murderer is endlessly debated. Hater reads to me as the fulfilment of a wish for a simpler world. And, indeed, those who become Haters describe feeling free, “stronger and more alive” than ever before (216). They are driven by a single emotion, by instinct—not hemmed in by rules, hesitation, and self-doubt. Hater revels in the real freedom of an apocalypse that wipes away the weight of history, borne individually and collectively.
In AMC’s The Walking Dead, in the season one episode “Guts,” Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) famously asserts that “There are no n******s anymore, no dumb-as-shit inbred white trash fools either. Only dark meat and white meat. There’s us and the dead.” But the characters on The Walking Dead continue to struggle with all the existential and ethical (if not the political and economic) problems of the world prior to the apocalyptic event.
In Hater, there is no such struggle. Hater is pitted unambiguously against non-Hater. This is one of the appeals of the novel, I think, but it could also—especially as the trilogy continues—become its drawback. We may fantasize about living in a world of stark them-or-us, but do we want to read about it? Hater is an exceptional novel because, in part, of Danny’s complex, conflicted interior life. By the end of Hater, he, like everyone else, is on a side. How interesting will the story told in Dog Blood and Them or Us be? Stay tuned!