Will Self possesses one of the greatest literary imaginations of any writer working today. How the Dead Live is his most extraordinary book yet—a novel that will challenge, entertain, and truly astonish.
Lily Bloom is an aging American transplanted to England who has lost her battle with cancer and lies wasting away at the Royal Ear Hospital. As her two daughters—lumpy Charlotte, who runs a hugely successful chain of stationery stores called Waste of Paper, and beautiful Natasha, a junkie—buzz around her and the nurses pump her full of morphine, Lily slides in and out of the present, taking us on a surreal, opinionated trip through the stages of a lifetime of lust and rage. A career girl in the 1940s, a sexed-up, tippling adulteress in the 1950s and ‘60s, a divorced PR flak in the 1970s and ‘80s, Lily presents us with a portrait of America and England over sixty years of riotous and unreal change.
And then it’s over: Lily catches a cab with the aboriginal wizard Phar Lap Jones, her guide to the shockingly banal world of the dead. It’s a world that is surreal but familiar, where she again works in PR and rediscovers how great smoking is, where her cohabitants include Rude Boy, the son who died at age nine and now swears a blue streak, and three eyeless, murmuring wraiths, the Fats—composed of the pounds, literally the whole selves, she lost and gained over her lifetime. As Lily settles into her nonexistence, the most difficult challenge for this staunchly difficult woman is how to understand that she’s dead, and how to leave the rest behind.
How the Dead Live is an unforgettable portrait of the human condition, the struggle with life and with death. It’s a novel that will disturb and provoke, the work, in the words of one British reviewer, “of a novelist writing at the height of his powers.”
HScathingly satiric and prophetic, this unsettling novel by Great Apes author Self will inevitably inspire comparison with Martin Amis's era-defining London Fields. Running on a vatic rage that is almost Swiftian in the totality of its objectDthe damned human conditionDit sweeps across the charnel-fields of contemporary existence. The enraged center is held by narrator Lily Bloom, a Jewish-American transplant to London. Harsh, unforgivably anti-Semitic, extreme, Lily is a larger-than-life character. In fact, she is literally dead when the reader first meets her. She's biding her afterlife in Dulston, the dead "cystrict" of London. In the first part of the book, she harks back to her terminal illness, when her 30-year-old daughter, Charlotte, arranged for her care. Dutiful, responsible and all too English, Charlotte reminds Lily of her despised second husband, David Yaws, Charlotte's father. Natasha, her younger daughter, is a beautiful drug addict, "far too selfish," as Lily comments, "to think of doing anything for herself. She's entirely centered on what others might do for her." Lily's nine-year-old son, David, or "Rude Boy," a profanity-spouting child crushed by a car in 1957, is reunited with her in the afterlife, as is her petrified still-birth, the "lithopedion," and the fat she lost dieting. Her afterlife guide, Australian aborigine Phar Lap Jones, advises her to give up desire, but Lily wants another turn on the cycle of life and death. Self brilliantly uses Lily's marginal position to comment on a culture structured by the desire to desire. Through Lily's eyes, the reader is granted a vision of the West as a vast, glittering junkiedom. Lily's objection is not political, howeverDit is existential, an accusation of the inevitable failure of the flesh itself. Self's novel will surely figure on best-book lists this year.