#oneaday 38: How the dead live

7 Feb

Inspired by Ian’s latest post about books he borrowed from Ben, I thought I’d use this post to talk about one of my favourite books. So here you go:

One of my favourite books of all time is How The Dead Live by Will Self. Will Self is, incidentally, one of my all-time favourite writers too.

how the dead live will self novel writing review beatifnik

I love the way he can tell a thoroughly shocking or heartbreaking or mind-numbingly depressing tale with such wit, charm and humanity. I recently went along to a reading he did from his latest book, Walking To Hollywood, as part of Morley Literature Festival and that did go some way to changing my perception of his writing, as he read it with a glint in his eye and what looked like a large pinch of salt, rather than the desperate, clawing tone that I’d attributed to his work when I’d read it before. Certainly, I found The Book of Dave to be utterly heart-wrenching and yet spellbinding at the same time, although now in retrospect knowing how Will Self read some of the more bleak parts of Walking to Hollywood, I imagine those parts I found to be black and terrifying would now come across somewhat differently. I’d highly recommend The Book of Dave to anyone – it’s hard going in places but ultimately rewarding and so insightful on a million different levels, from the underbelly of London to a cutting and eyebrow-rasing look at organised religion.

But anyway, I digress.

How the Dead live tells the story of Lily Bloom’s forray into the bit that happens after we die. Lily is a dislikable old woman who you end up liking anyway, against your better judgement. She dies of cancer and the story follows her and her spirit guide (an Aboriginal dude) and an aborted (or lost, I forget which) foetus as Lily tries to make sense of the afterlife. She hasn’t gone to heaven, she’s simply stuck in Dalston and enters a weird kind of life-rehab that sees her trying to adjust to being dead whilst keeping tabs on her daughters who’re still alive and causing different kinds of havock for the living. It’s splendidly told and is full of gruesome, fascinating characters that Self does so well.

I think I took to the book so well as I kind of identified with Lily’s struggle to adjust to her death because at the time I was just out of university and temping and trying to adjust to this weird new way of life. I’m not equating leaving student life behind to your own death, but I am comparing a huge shift in routine, daily life and friends, even the place you live. Suddenly, the date changed and I went from being me: student to me: worker and it was a bit of a shock to the system. Of course, I’d worked throughout university so I’m not exclusively talking about the work front. What I mean is, I think in a way everyone feels like they need a bit of rehab after a major lifestyle change – not to wean off narcotics or alcohol, but instead just to gradually help one make the transition from one life stage to the next.

I suppose like anyone in recovery, you’re never really better – you just learn to get used to it.

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