How The Dead Live

How the Dead Live

How The Dead LiveI read a Will Self book many years ago, and to tell you the truth, I understood about every other word. The guy’s vocabulary is absolutely ridiculous. I could have sworn he was making up half the words I was seeing. The only thing more abstract than his syntax was the oddball characters and ideas he presented. And here we go again… This is not your typical kind of book. It is abstract and twisted. It sounds as if it bubbled from the head of a man on serious narcotics, or seriously in need of some. The strange thing about this book is that for all his amazing knowledge of the language, his dialogue involving the main character, Lily Bloom, an American Jewish woman, is neither very convincingly Jewish nor American. He misuses a Yiddish expression at one point and has very British sayings and words come out of Lily’s mouth. Granted, she’s supposed to have live in London for some time before her death and rebirth in the afterlife, but I found some of these “gaffs” rather jarring. Anyway, that’s me just being a pain in the ass. Basically we see Lily in her death, trying to make her way through the world of the dead in a little known and little-seen ‘burb of London called Dulston. Her life as a dead person seems to fall right in line with her life as a living entity. She is not motivated to either improve or alter her situation in this existence, much as she sleepwalked through her days as a wife and mother in her living life. She’s actually a pretty miserable person both in life and in death and, great for us, we get to watch her mope around for several hundred pages. Regardless, there are some interesting and bizarre ideas in this novel, including the dead having to live with these creatures called “the fats” which are manifestations of all the weight a person gains and loses over their lifetimes. She also has to live with a pop-singing calcified fetus and her dead son who is naked, smeared in mud and runs around shouting the “n”-word to everyone he sees. Unfortunately, she still has to work and pay taxes, but can’t feel or touch anything, making sex and any kind of human contact useless. She can’t even enjoy the cigarettes that killed her or the food that was the bane of her existence while alive. She has this aboriginal “death guide” that shows her around and has to watch her living, drug-addicted daughter visit the dead, drug-dealing ghoul upstairs in her apartment house. All in all Self is quite a satirist, but a lot of it is lost on me. I mean, I understand what he’s getting at, but I’m not sure I care.