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How the Dead Live

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About the Author

Will Self is the author of a number of books of short stories and two previous novels, My Idea of Fun and Great Apes - all are published by Penguin in paperback. He has three children, and is married to the Independent columnist Deborah Orr. They live in London.


With a dazzling display of linguistic tricks, this third novel from Self (Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys) leads us through Lilly Bloom's last days and then her eight years in the land of the dead, which, as it turns out, is a small section of London. Lilly's two daughters, responsible Charlotte and drug-addicted Natasha, hover around her as she slips into a coma, but her interior monolog reveals annoyance with her daughters, anger toward her two ex-husbands, self-hatred, and a general disgust with the world. After she dies, she continues tracking her daughters, navigating the deathocracy, and raging about what she should have done in her life. In death, she has to attend AA-type meetings, guided by aboriginal Australian Phar Lap Jones; for company, she has Rude Boy, the son whose death at age nine is partly her responsibility; her unborn child Lithy, a calcified fetus; and her fats, the weight she had lost during her life. It takes an inspired narrative to make this readable, and Self provides it with wit, style, and flair while questions of life and death, feelings and desire, and love and hate swirl around searching for some resolution. Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/00.]DJoshua Cohen Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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