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Thursday, February 22, 2018

How the Dead Live (2000) by Will Self

Book Review
How the Dead Live (2000)
 by Will Self

  Crazy story about How the Dead Live- I checked out a free Ebook version from the Los Angeles Public Library and opened it in the Kindle app on my Samsung Galaxy phone.  It had a button to buy the unabridged audio version, over 15 hours long, for forty dollars, and reader, do you know I accidentally bought it?  I tried to undo the transaction but was thwarted, then I thought, well, for 15 fucking hours of audio book, why not? 

  The, "Why not?" would be, "Why not? Because this is 15 hours about death, death, and dying.  Lily Bloom, the narrator of How the Dead Live, is already dead, she is what the Tibetans would call the Bardo- the spiritual half way house between death and the release from the wheel of consciousness. It's hard not to think about the 2017 Booker Prize winner, Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders, which explicitly utilized the Tibetan Bardo concept.

  In How the Dead Live, Self doesn't make his after-death life specific to a denomination, though it becomes clear to everyone BUT Lily Bloom that the idea of after-death is to release your self and free yourself from the cycle of existence.  Bloom , suddenly dead at 65 after a lightning fast battle with breast cancer, is obsessed with her two daughters, particularly Natasha, a beautiful but broken junkie- and by junkie I mean heroin addict who shoots heroin, and her other less interesting daughter, married to the succesful owner of a chain of stationery shops.

  It's hard not to read some Joycean aspirations into the last name of the main character.  Anyone even vaguely familiar with Ulysses will see that book echoed in How the Dead Live.  I wouldn't be the first person to observe that Self can be more witty than deep.  How the Dead Live, with it's dark, dark, subject matter is hardly breezy fun but it is fun of a sort.  I thought, going in, that 15 hours by one reader would be tough- but the reader of the audio book version was obviously a trained voice actress and she did different accents- the American accent of Lily Bloom, the English accents of her daughter, even the accent of Lily's aboriginal spirit guide.


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