Summary: Lily Bloom is old. And dead. 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.
My reaction: I absolutely HATED the first 26 pages of this novel (titled Epilogue though it comes at the beginning of the book). Reading it was like being thrown into a freezing lake in the dark. I hated the characters, I hated the language, but I made myself keep reading because I was curious to find out how the dead live. The next section was entitled “Dying”. This was all about Lily’s last few days of life, in the hospital, and at home with her daughters. I began to hate the book less – though dying is never fun, Lily was sarcastic and insightful enough to hold my interest. And Natasha’s story, as tragic as it was, was also compelling reading and carried me through the rest of the novel to an ending that turned out to be pretty clever.
There are some interesting ideas here and it did grow on me as I read on, so I guess it was worth reading in the end. But I wouldn’t personally put it on any list of 1001 books that MUST be read before you die.
Anyone have any recommendations of books that cover similar territory? I’ve read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and I’ve heard a lot about Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere, but I’d be happy to hear about more books on the imagined afterlife.