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How the Dead Live by Will Self

How the Dead Live (2000)

by Will Self

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8221216,742 (3.29)24



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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
What an extraordinary and interesting book to read.
I liked it a lot: strange yet recognizable, believable, both the afterlife part as well as the path to it.

This is a book I'd recommend :-) ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Oct 21, 2017 |
'Grant me the stupidity to deny there's anything I cannot change, the temerity to neglect the things I can, and the ignorance to be incapable of distinguishing between the two''

''How the Dead Live'' is narrated by Lily Bloom, an American lying in a hospital in London, dying of cancer. Mind you, narration is probably putting it rather mildly because as she describes her lonely, isolated life in London with a philandering husband and two daughters,now grown up, one of whom Natasha is a drug addict with designs on her mother's prescription drugs; and on the cancer that is slowly eating her up it reads more like a sermon given by some Evangelist preacher.

Roughly a third of the way through the novel Lily finally succumbs to the cancer and dies from then on she takes the reader on a tour of the afterlife. Self's vision of the afterlife in London does not seem to differ greatly from real life. The dead take jobs and deal with petty bureaucrats and bureaucracy, housed in sub-standard accommodation before being moved out of the city to some even duller commuter town. An afterlife where the dead still eat, drink and smoke out of habit rather than any need of sustenance.

This seems both a somewhat disquieting but also amusing look on life, and of course death. In particular I loved the 12-step programme and the 12 traditions for the ''Personally Dead'' but was repulsed by the thought of having to spend the afterlife living with moving, talking lumps of fat gained and lost throughout life.

For me, the early part of the book feels like a long winded lead up to a joke out; where the punch line is death and there is a real lack of characterisation despite Lily revealing a glimpse of her early life in America. I also found some of the imagery used both repetitive and at times pointless. It was if Self had been given a list of words by his editor and had been told that he had to use them all at some point or other otherwise the book would not be published. It had the effect of making the text turgid rather than flowing but then perhaps that was the whole idea and I just missed it. On the flip side I wouldn't say that I totally dislike it. At times I found it intriguing and compelling but I didn't enjoy half as much as The Book of Dave, the previous Will Self book that I have read. Like that book this seems to be a back-handed swipe at organised religion and beliefs but this one fails to really hit the mark. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Oct 6, 2017 |

This is a bizarre, imaginative, chaotic, wonky description of life after death for a bitter widow of two grown daughters. As much as she despised her daughters, Lily Bloom was compelled after death to follow them around in London while she lived in a shadowy after death world. There are not many who will wish to read through this sludge but I was hooked for I never knew what weirdness the next page would bring. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Some thoughts on Will Self’s How The Dead Live. The first 280 or so pages deliver the constant narrative pleasure of some illicit drug. One is constantly buoyed along by the wonderful storytelling.

American Lily Bloom, twice-married, now a widow living in London, is dying of cancer--and then stone dead of it. We are there at her long deathbed scene after which she finds herself non-living in a London of the astral plane in her subtle body. We share her last days and the decade or so of her afterlife. She begins to smoke again since it can't possibly harm her. Lily non-lives in a London where only the dead know the little out of the way places, in this case Dulston, somewhere near Dalston, a complete neighborhood of the dead. This arbitrarily imagined world makes a kind of crazy sense, so vividly is it rendered, so consistent is its patterning and rules of order.

The dead meet in groups at the community center to learn how to become dead. It's a 12-step program. The afterlife it turns out is as problematic and bureaucratic as life itself. It's also intolerably banal. Lily is led in her death odyssey by dead Australian aborigine, Phar Lap Jones. She is able to visit the living, non-living as she does in the midst of them. She visits Natalia her junkie daughter--a very sad story Self mistakenly thinks he can make funny--and her materialist daughter Charlene who with her husband owns a chain of stores called Waste of Paper. Once dead Lily is free to witness the comings and goings of these two daughters. Natalia, or Natty, is one of the saddest portraits of a junky I have ever read, William Burroughs’s tales not excepted. Natty has turned herself into a walking talking blight on humanity. She is a raving lunatic beauty, a complete waste of human flesh. She is a whore living with her pimp for junk.

Self reminds me here of a young Martin Amis. Sometimes, too, one senses the madcap sensibility of Samuel Beckett. The tone is strident, reminiscent also at times of certain Thomas Bernhard novels. Though these are just hints for those who haven't read the man. Will Self transcends his models. He makes it new, as Ezra Pound once said. However, if you're looking for a modulation of tone this is not the novel for you. It's a no-holds-barred all out rant against the unfairness of life and death.

Lily is never enlightened by her own passing. She is deep in what the Buddhists term samsara: the endless cycle of birth and suffering and death and rebirth. Enlightenment? She's too pissed off for that. She must alas be reborn continually until she sees the light, which in her case may be several hundreds lives off. About page 280 or so I must admit I began to feel rather brutalized. Self's word play is as relentless as the tone, though it never rises to the subtle sometimes italicized level of his model, Martin Amis.

Mostly, I admire the novel. There can be no question of the author's mastery of narrative. In the first 280 pages there are long brainy sections that simply sing and these can be terribly funny as well. The storytelling in this part is gripping and vivid. However, a novel of ideas this is not. How The Dead Live, like Money, is a voice novel in which tone becomes everything and overrides form.

I was perplexed by the italicized "Christmas 2001" sections. These sections really become tedious until one discovers, at the very end, what they mean. Self does not sufficiently adumbrate. I was absolutely lost reading them. Note: being somewhat lost or rather lost is part of the fun of fiction. But I was entirely lost in these sections, which made them seem to me like pointless padding. Poor editing me thinks.

In closing, let me say again that there are long patches of beautiful writing here and many funny bits. But the book is at least 75 pages too long. A judicious editing the novel certainly deserved and did not appear to get. I recommend it nevertheless. Read it, stay with it if you can, but be prepared to bleed. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
This book posits an afterlife but no god. The afterlife is somewhat grim and confusing. Also boring. The book is not boring at all. A woman of a certain age dies and it looks at her relationships with her two grown daughters and their lives. One daughter is a an addict and the other is quite conventional. We also witness her death from cancer and what a great relief it is to be out of pain. The afterlife has no pain or sex or eating or sleep, though people pretend to eat, so you can see why it's boring. The most upsetting thing about it to me was it still had money and work. Ugh. There's also a ton of bureaucracy called the deatheaucracy. Corking good fun, but serious too. Considers the meaning of life in a way.

I almost forgot Self's disturbing concept of Jewish anti-semitism. He seems to be trying to say that there are Jew-hating Jews who pass remarks about other Jews' noses and such, but it doesn't come off right. I wondered whether Self was Jewish or not, and if he had got it a bit wrong, or if it was just the Britishness of it that made it seem so strange. It defintetly seemed off, and I'm not complaining about the existence of Jewish anti-semitism itself, which I accept, only Self's portrayal of it. ( )
  kylekatz | Jul 23, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Self has always given the impression of a man who intends to elope with his thesaurus at the first available opportunity; on the evidence of ''How the Dead Live,'' that opportunity has finally presented itself. We get pointless reiterations (''unbeatable gloating, unbelievable schadenfreude''); we get the word ''puling'' twice in eight pages, which, for a book that invokes Joyce, will not do; and we get wave after wave of viscous imagery (''congealed reality . . . blubbery blancmange of an evidence''). Throw this book at a wall and it will stick...

This is Will Self, of course, so heartlessness comes with the territory -- you feel wimpy and emotional for even raising the point. But you do wonder whether one day he will have the courage to turn the tables on that heartlessness -- to subject it to the same pitiless rigor with which he currently allows it to scour the world.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Times, Tom Shone (Oct 8, 2000)
Self's gifts as a writer are undeniable; they shriek from every page. But he is a talent entirely without discipline or discrimination. The book is packed with puns, assonances and alliterations; polysyllables, jargon and slang run amok; metaphors and similes blunder about, crashing into one another. After the first 40 pages, I was ready to give in, to say:'All right, Self, you're bloody marvellous. Now can't you just shut up and leave me alone?' But no, he keeps on going for another 360 pages.
added by SnootyBaronet | editDaily Telegraph, Robert Hanks
The verbal excess is a thin would-be impressive membrane over an inner tissue of more commonplace commentary. There are incidentally interesting thoughts, such as the affinity of addicts with the dying, both of whom 'operate within tiny windows of temporal opportunity'. There are brief moments of enchanting imaginative transformation, as when Lily's duvet pattern dissolves into the grid of Manhattan. But more frequently, the look-at-me-mum metaphors and the compulsive alliteration are striking without being enlightening.
added by SnootyBaronet | editSunday Times, Tom Deverson
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'As though in an initiatory mystery play, the actors for

each day of the bardo come on to the mind stage on the

deceased, who is their sole spectator; and their director

is karma.'

W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Preface to The Tibetan Book of the Dead
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Epilogue | April 1999 | We old women are easily erased from the picture of the last century.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140268650, Paperback)

This is the extraordinary story of a 65-yr-old woman who lies dying in a London hospital. As she's in the process of being ferried across to the other world (which turns out to be remarkably like this one), she reflects on her husbands, her children, her entire life. Brilliant and witty as always, Self has this time written a novel that carries a huge emotional punch in its portrait of a wonderful middle-aged woman - based apparently on his mother. 'He has shown that literature can still be great' - "Evening Standard".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:48 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Lily Bloom, an elderly American dying of cancer in a British hospital, retraces her life and then enters a rather banal world of the dead.

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