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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 8 July 2012
This is quite a short book, I read it in one day. The author has clearly taken a lot of time and effort to research her subject thoroughly. The book is the bittersweet story of Lee Hart trainee funeral director and the day to day problems he faces in his life. Lee is a carer for his deaf brother and disabled stepfather, his mother is dead. He is spurned in love but he finds solace in his work and the pride he takes in his position at the undertakers. Your heart goes out to Lee, he is a likeable character trying desperately to find an anchor in this world and make his way. The book is well written in short punchy sentences, and you feel Lee's voice is really connecting with you. A good quick read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 July 2012
Kitty Aldridge's "A Trick I Learned from Dead Men" is a touchingly written, quirky story set in the world of funeral homes. The narrator is twenty-something Lee Hart. He's not the sharpest tool in the box, but his life has been tough. His father left when he was young and his mother has recently died of cancer leaving him, his step-father, a sofa-bound television make-over show addict and his deaf and wayward younger brother, Ned to fend for themselves. Lee lands a job as a trainee at the local funeral home helping Derek prepare the dead for burial or cremation. Far from being a dead end job though, it is here that he learns, ironically, about life and love, in the form of the delivery girl from the local florists.

As much as anything, it is Lee's narrative style that makes this book. It's full of short sentences, often not grammatically correct. He picks up odd words of what he deems as sophistication, especially if these are foreign words, and peppers these in his narrative like a younger version of Del-boy Trotter. So often novelists gift their narrators with a level of writing that is not consistent with their experience but not so here. The result is both touching and charming.

Aldridge also demonstrates admirable attention to her research. She acknowledges the help of funeral homes and staff in the book, and it's full of snippets and stories that can only have come from real life. Often these are darkly amusing and never gory but they give a real sense of authenticity to the book. It's hard not to imagine that Aldridge's husband, former Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler, not breathing a sigh of relief when the research phase of her work was complete as you can just see her regaling him with the latest gruesome story over their evening beans on toast! She captures the dark humour of the staff at the funeral home superbly. It oozes with detail about, well preventing oozing, as well as the dangers of taking out pacemakers prior to cremation and dealing with customers who want their relatives buried with their mobile phones. Told though Lee's naïve voice though, this is never as gruesome as it sounds.

The novel started life as a short story, for which it won the Bridport Short Story Prize. While it has been expanded here to something between a short novel and a novella, it doesn't feel like it has been unnaturally stretched out, which often happens when short stories are expanded.

Yes, elements of the story are sad, even tragic, but there is a sense of optimism in the narrative voice that is quietly uplifting. Each chapter is headed with a weather forecast, mirroring the conversations, albeit rather one sided, that Lee and Derek have with the temporary residents of the funeral home. Eccentric though the employees of Shakespeare & Son Funeral Services may be, it's not a bad place to end up you feel. In many ways it feels a rather better place than the real life world that Lee has to endure.

A novel set in a funeral home might not be your first choice, but it really is dead good.
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on 21 July 2012
I was charmed by Lee, the quirky and kind hearted main character, a 24 year old apprentice undertaker. The humour was gentle and respectful. The routines and procedures strangely comforting. Lee does his best with a sad and difficult home situation though his thoughts and actions are frequently bizarre. I found the book funny and sad in almost equal measure and I hated leaving the characters so much when I came to the end I immediately began a reread. Best book I have read since 'The Help'.
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on 31 July 2013
I really enjoyed this book, totally different to the usual books I read. It was recommended from a book club review, otherwise I probably wouldn't have chosen it. Saved it in my kindle to read again I liked it that much.
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on 12 December 2012
This fantastic book is written by a woman and what a clever author Kitty Aldridge is as she gets into the heads of the main male characters so incredibly well. The story develops around Lee, who is looking after his stepfather and his socially inept and deaf younger brother Ned, following the death of their mother from cancer. Written in a style that rather reminded me of Alan Bennett`s Talking Heads monologues it is at once funny, tragic, clever and deeply moving. It`s not really a novel, more a novella, you can read it in a day, but I would highly recommend this book, it`s a rare treat and a joyful piece of writing.
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on 9 December 2012
Thoroughly enyoyed this book on so many levels. I laughed out loud, I cried, I loved how beautifully crafted it is and the freshness of style in which it is written. The taboo subject of death is somehow brought to life! Definitely worth a read.
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on 14 December 2012
An interesting, quirky read which draws you in from the beginning and keeps you reading with a sense of anticipation of what's coming up next for the characters. The narrative voice is unusual and takes a while to get used to, but it brings to life the intriguing main character, Lee. A good choice for a book club read - there's plenty to discuss and the length means everyone should finish it in time!
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on 7 November 2013
This book ticks all the boxes! Humour, action and emotion. It is written from the persepctive of a young man struggling to keep his family together following the death of his mother and is his internal monologue as he goes about his day's work at the local undertakers. Unusual? Yes, definitely - but well wirth a look.
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on 29 March 2013
At last a book where the author is more interested in engaging readers than in showing off her literary talents - which is not to say she isn't full of literary talent. The only problem was the overdramatic event towards the end of the book. It felt like a deus ex machina put in to bring the story to a climax - which wasn't at all necessary. For me the story was weakened by having a dramatic denouement like that. Still I am very grateful Kitty Aldridge for the pleasure her book gave me. Hope she wins the women's prize for fiction - but I have a feeling she might be a bit too good to do that.
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on 28 April 2015
After a couple of chapters I gave up on this book, because I wasn't in the mood for the writing style or the setting. But .. strangely the book gets under your skin so I picked it up again. And wow, am I glad I did. Stick with it because you'll get into the rhythm of the writing, the characters quickly fill out and you will begin rooting for Lee. This book is often described as blackly humorous, and so it is in a small way.
But primarily it's a searingly poignant picture of a young man's world, the fabric of which is quickly thinning and fraying in all directions.
This is a very contemporary British novel, that possibly could not be fully appreciated by readers outside the UK. Lee's life with his brother in the cottage that was once on a farm is now filled with motorways, reality TV and microwave pizza. In contrast his work life keeps him in touch with a (literally!) dying art and generation. This book is a quick read but you will savour it and remember Lee and his brother for a long time after.
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