In 1988, sixty-five-year old Lily Bloom quickly succumbs to cancer in London. But after life there's death. Guided by an Aborigine named Phar Lap Jones, Lily is transported by a Greek Cypriot minicab driver to the North London dead neighbourhood of Dulston. There, accompanied by her lithopedion Lithy and her dead son Rude Boy, she's introduced to the twelve-step Personally Dead meetings, and watches over her living daughters--the cold, ambitious Charlotte, and her favourite, the heroin-addicted Natasha.
Since Self's face, voice and, notoriously, his life story are familiar to millions who will never pick up his book, there's always the risk of over-reading his work biographically. Read this way, Lily is clearly based on his New York-born Jewish mother; large chunks of Self's much-publicised addictions are wittily retooled; and Self himself is sexily transmuted into the beautiful and glamorously doomed Natasha. But Lily is a feisty, articulate woman, with a complex history spanning two continents, two husbands, and a constantly recreated personality--a great literary creation. Self's longterm obsession with London provides us with the utterly convincing Dulston; his treatment of modern Jewish life in North London (versus New York) will find its fans and critics; and his sympathetic account of Lily's decline into her morphine-laden deathbed is deeply affecting. But ultimately How The Dead Live grows beyond such local concerns. Ultimately, this novel is about the vexed relationship between the local worries of contemporary Western life and a more transcendent non-Western spirituality--signalled by Self's opening gesture to The Tibetan Book of the Dead and by the all-seeing Aborigine Phar Lap Jones. Readers familiar with his satire and pyrotechnic wordplay--both still well in place--may initially be thrown by the book's unexpected lurches of narrative voice and locale and its mysticism--but they'd be well advised to give it a chance. How The Dead Live is a big book with big ideas, and quite definitely Will Self's most ambitious and mature work to date.--Alan Stewart
About the Author
Will Self is the author of THE QUANTITY THEORY OF INSANITY, shortlisted for the 1992 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize and winner of the 1993 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, GREY AREA, COCK & BULL, MY IDEA OF FUN, JUNK MAIL, THE SWEET SMELL OF PSYCHOSIS, GREAT APES, TOUGH, TOUGH TOYS FOR TOUGH, TOUGH BOYS, DORIAN, and HOW THE DEAD LIVE, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year 2002. He lives in London.