Firstly, I'd advise anyone against ever reading any book with a dictionary or a thesaurus in hand, what a total waste of time. If you find you are looking up a number of words in the first few pages, and cannot use their context to illuminate the meaning, put the book down.
This is satire, the satire of Chris Morris, and indeed Self has recently taken time to defend Brass Eye. It is easy to see where the two men coincide intellectually; they are relentlessly embittered by the mores of society, they want to hit back at the comfortable, and are driven to vent their frustrations through artistic expression at the very boundaries of taste. As such, How the Dead Live is a car crash of a novel - you don't want to look because you'll hate what you see, but you crane your neck anyway. The relentless, loveless prose is amazing, energetic, high and low brow, funny and scandalous.
But the narrator proves herself to be a one-trick pony, and I was tired of her negative voice long before the end of the book. There are some great ideas - the Nowhere bars where business men sweat underneath video screens of Australian skies, sitting on tyres and drinking home brew beer for example, or the day-to-day life of dead Lily in Dulston proves to be inventive and funny (although recycled from an earlier idea). Her death is moving, precise, and horrible, the main story of the second half of the novel, the story of Natasha, Lily's desperate, beautiful but unlovely junky daughter, is focussed and written with assurance.
But the trajectory of the book, its height however high, sees it fall back down to the ground, a kind of pizzling out of momentum. Self himself says that at a specific point (around 80,000 words) he lets the story tell itself. This is where an editor should rein him in, and in this the last 100 pages or so seem to lack the taughtness, the hard blank surfaces of intellectual thought and invention, that the first 100 effortlessly contained.
Maybe this trajectory could be defended as a chart showing the disintegration of the mind as it progresses through the stages of the soul after death according to the tenets of Buddhism, and the sourness of the novel, with that awful, mutual sense of disappointment in the family unit being the point of the novel - a sort of resolution owing much to the idea of karma. If this is the case, then Self has written an incredible book, as depthy as it is hallucinogenic. But my sense of the decline of this novel owes much to the raw materials; the death of Self's mother, his anti-semitism transmitted from her, his addictions, his curious and slightly obsolete wish to mix high culture thought with low culture slang (a joke best told once)- are all ugly, painful ideas, told in an ugly, painful voice. There is no pleasure in the end, only a bitter belief in the verbal brilliance of the author. That is barely enough to sustain a reader for over 400 pages.