Tuesday, August 25, 2009

216. How the Dead Live – Will Self

May 2009
History: It was originally published by Penguin in 2001.
Plot: Lily Bloom dies, and this is the story of how she lives, after she dies, until she is born again as her daughters daughter. Cancer took her and now she’s existing in a shadow London in a dirty flat surrounded by a bizarre cast of afterlife characters including a half formed baby (Lithy) that never made it out of her body, her dead 9 year old son Rudeboy who never ceases to shout obscenities and racial slurs, a trio of “fats” (spirits of the all the weight she lost and gained over her lifetime), and an extremely enigmatic and annoying aborigine spiritual guide named Phar Lap. She spends her dreary days attending Personally Dead meetings, working at a PR agency to earn money to buy cigarettes (the dead’s one real pleasure it seems), and spying on her two still living daughters, the prissy and plump Charlotte and the gorgeous heroin junkie Natasha. Occasionally she visits the Deatheaucracy office where they tell her she has to pay her back taxes before she can move on, though where exactly she could move on to is the mystery that is supposed to keep you reading.
Review: I loved this book. Will Self’s writing is funny and smart. Self's writing is, in other words, a handy illustration of the close link between cynic and sentimentalist. The person who looks at the world and sees nothing but postulation is no better or worse -- philosophically speaking -- than the person who looks at the world and sees nothing but puppy dogs. As guides to the world they are equally reliable, which is to say not reliable at all. Self is writing literature, of course, not philosophy, and anyone using his work as a map deserves our every sympathy
Opening Line: “We old women are easily erased from the picture of the last century.”
Closing Line: “Nothing much. No-thing. Except this: forget me : Not.”
Quotes: (There were so many great ones:)
“I began to refer to any discussion of cancer as being a self fulfilling prophecy”
“The Cold War didn’t actually give me the hots, but along with many many others I assumed that what I’d want to do while it all came crashing down was screw with Dr. Strangelove”
She can feel a trickle of blood lazily snaking beneath her slacks, down her skin, into her sock. Something to pick at later.”
“…and the raw fact of the matter is that I was fucking afraid of the shit inside my head. Desperately afraid it would get loose and overwhelm me. It was a small satisfaction to discover I’d been right all the time.”
“My fat old belly gurgled with annoyance, my saggy limbs shook with irritation, my tired old sex grew gummy with pique, my internal organs played arpeggios of indignation.”
Rating: Excellent

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