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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Come on people, make an effort
I feel I have to write this review as a corrective to all these reviewers who seem to think that Self writes nothing but commuter fodder (chuck-lit?) and has a bit of a nerve expecting much of an effort from his readers.
Now, it is true that the writing wavers in the opening chapters of How the Dead Live, and that is why I only feel able to give it 4 stars. But Self...
Published on 12 Oct 2002

versus
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK, so I have only read it once, pretty much as soon as it came out, so that was a good while ago now. But...
...definitely Self's worst book.

The aborigine ruined the whole book for me. He seemed out of place and there just so the author could have fun writing an aborigine accent. Though maybe it was worth all that just for the line lamenting how Fish and Chip shops have been replaced by Kebab Houses. It's a classic, so I won't ruin it by typing it out here...
Published on 16 July 2010 by JuJuOrange


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Come on people, make an effort, 12 Oct 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
I feel I have to write this review as a corrective to all these reviewers who seem to think that Self writes nothing but commuter fodder (chuck-lit?) and has a bit of a nerve expecting much of an effort from his readers.
Now, it is true that the writing wavers in the opening chapters of How the Dead Live, and that is why I only feel able to give it 4 stars. But Self gets into his stride with Lily's death and the writing intensifies steadily from that point on. The death itself is handled beautifully, eerily, like a dream filtering and modifying external events. Lily remembers a bike ride near Snape. She stops to eat her chocolate in guilty isolation. Climbing a gate, she grazes her shin and feels a warm trickle of blood as she finds a quiet place to sit. She feels cold and alone. And so she dies. The scene is highly charged and if, as has been said in the press, Lily bears more than a passing resemblance to Self's own mother, this must have been a painful one to write.
To this intensification of the writing, Self adds a stylistic device that creates the impression of steadily increasing momentum, even though the pace of events hardly changes. Each chapter ends with a coda looking forward to the ending which can be guessed before it is reached (I shan't spoil it for you!). These previews get progressively longer, and the effect is a sort of telescoping of time so that the reader almost feels like s/he is being accelerated into the brick wall of the ending.
This is also a book with some big ideas and, as usual, Self is using plot as a way of undermining the categories that structure the reader's everyday understanding. How do the dead live? They live like the poor (the socially dead?). When you die, do your misdeeds come back to haunt you? Yes -- in fact they come to live (die?) with you. So this is a very moral book, although one in which retribution is bureaucratically organized, as befits a godless universe.
Anyone who knows Self's work will not expect these ideas to be neatly worked out or his language to be perfectly under control -- he loves language play too much for that. But this is a powerful book and one which, if you give it a chance, will stay with you for a long time.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars wet and dry fireworks, 20 Aug 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK, so I have only read it once, pretty much as soon as it came out, so that was a good while ago now. But..., 16 July 2010
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
...definitely Self's worst book.

The aborigine ruined the whole book for me. He seemed out of place and there just so the author could have fun writing an aborigine accent. Though maybe it was worth all that just for the line lamenting how Fish and Chip shops have been replaced by Kebab Houses. It's a classic, so I won't ruin it by typing it out here.

As for best book ever written - try Great Apes instead.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last a really great read!, 20 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
I loved this book it was a real rollercoaster of emotions and ideas and unlike other reviewers I did not find Self to be pretentious and I did not require a thesaurus!
Lily is a complex, somewhat unlikable character but her journey from a tedious death into an excrutiatingly dull afterlife is a marvellous fantasy. The tedium is wonderfully alleviated by the lithopedian (who I liked very much) and the glorious fats; blubbery creatures formed from the weight Lily shed and gained in life.
It is cleverly structured and yes you have to have your wits about you to keep up, but hey if you want it easy them choose Catherine Cookson.
The ending is subtle and bittersweet. Truly a book to keep you thinking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To Dulston and back!!!, 6 Nov 2008
By 
Room For A View - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
Disturbingly dark, uncomfortably ulterior and grotesquely Gothic - this is a novel about what lies either side of living. An imaginary world of ennui, dullness and repitition, osmotically conveyed through the principle character of Lily, a self absorbed caricature of suburban mediocrity, self hate and hopelessness. No surprise that Self constantly refers to negative historical events, unrestrained materialism and the deceptive allure of drug misuse. I felt that the story was less about how the dead live but how the living are dead. A moribund existence of destructive competition, agression, hate and intolerance. Take for example, Lily's daughters who inhabit lives at opposite ends of the social spectrum: Charlotte is the archetypal middle-class wifey, soaked in opulence and drowning in convention, whereas Natasha craves heroin and emotionally inept relationships. Although the content is bleak, Self's acute portrait of society's ills, is humourously conveyed. There is an incisive satire at play here, perhaps jaundiced by death but, nevertheless, a lesson in objective analysis that left me feeling upbeat and entertained. After all this is just a fictional story about a pre/post life consciousness that is often the domain of religion. To what extent Self is teasing himself and/or the reader is an interesting question.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth persevering with, I felt, 6 Jan 2005
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
I bought this book because I'd enjoyed My Idea of Fun, and Cock & Bull. I'd consider myself quite widely read, but I really struggled through the early chapters. This is where, I presume, those negative comments about the book on this site come from. The plot is slow and dull - Self's laboured similes don't help - and page after page I found I couldn't care less whether or when he would kill the old trout off. In fact, I sometimes half-hoped that I might die mid-paragraph to save me having to read another over-descriptive reminiscence about her dead son. You know, just because you can write how people think, that doesn't make it entertaining literature. Anyway, reading the Amazon book reviews kept me interested enough to soldier through a few pages a night. Reviews seemed so divided on whether Self is genius or dunce that I felt I had to keep going just to see what they meant!
Finally, 155 pages into the thing I found the plot developed and the pages instantly became more turnable: a real story, at last. The same characters that had frustrated me in the first six chapters were fleshed out with real personalities and direction, and sub-plots I cared about appeared as if from nowhere. If Self set out to deliberately starve the reader in the first half of the story to force him to gorge himself on the second, then it worked on me. Granted, the final twist in the plot is rather kitsch and you can see it coming from a hundred paces, but by then I was entertained enough by the main characters' destinies that I didn't mind.
I still felt more a sense of survival once I'd reached the end, of growing and learning from the experience, rather than actually enjoying it - like one does after an enema, perhaps - but I was glad I'd persevered to enjoy the second part after the tricky first. I also sensed there was satire and philosophy between the lines that was either beneath me - like everything about the character Lithy - or beyond me, and meant for smarter, drier wits; I'm not sure which.
Not one of Self's best then, but still worth the time.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure!, 20 Sep 2006
By 
je9341 (Plymouth, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
I have just finished 'How the Dead Live' and thoroughly enjoyed it, having been gripped from the Epilogue. Such beautifully crafted sentences, and so many ideas per paragraph; Self's command of the language is formidable and a pleasure, not only making me smile but occassionally laugh outloud. Admittedly it's challenging in parts, but that was part of my enjoyment. I cannot to relate to the more negative reviews and must suppose to each his/her own etc...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will Self is writing the finest English literature today, 2 Sep 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
Quite a claim, but his writing is crammed-full with wit, punning, allusion, contemporary culture in a manner not far off Joyce. His jewish protagonist Lily Bloom could be a contemporary portrait of Molly Bloom, but his style comes across more like a very accessible Finnegans Wake. All neuron's firing, his every sentence has me either laughing or wondering where he's leading me next. The success of his juxtapositioning of bizarre and 'normal' characters and the fantastic scenarios he drags them through has left me gobsmacked.
This book isn't for everyone, but neither is Joyce. It's writing to be savoured.
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2.0 out of 5 stars I just can't get into a Will Self book, 7 Jun 2013
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This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
Something about his writing... Yes, he's so watchable when he's on the telly, witty and condescending and self-satirising, or is it us he's satirising but we don't realise? Or is he, um. I can't read this, the idea is good but it just doesn't pull me along. His writing style feels like estuary mud.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a surreal impression of what happens to unrestful souls after death, 16 Nov 2009
This review is from: How the Dead Live (Paperback)
"How the Dead Live" is a surreal impression (if I can use those two words in the same sentence), of what happens to unrestful souls after death.

Lilly Bloom, the protagonist, is a deceased woman dogged by the ghosts of her own life, and as well as the deceased relics, include her two living daughters. Guided through the maze of living as a dead person, by a spiritual aborigine, she discovers the world created by Self's degenerate imagination (and I mean that in a good way).

With puns used to great and novel effect in the prose, Self pokes fun at any and everything and seems to also ride the jewish self-hating (as he puts it) band-wagon (Lilly being of jewish descent).

This was an enjoyable read, although also requiring a satisfying effort on the part of the reader. It made me laugh out loud occasionally, which is rare for me. This book is full of references, which are good if you know what Self is talking about. However I think anyone out of touch with British culture might struggle; I know that there were a number of references that I myself missed. This can become a little annoying, as can the punning, which although for the large part are very clever and relevant, were sometimes gratuitous and unfunny.

I've never read Will Self before, but this was a good introduction and I'd definitely recommend this to others; I'll also seek out moreSelf myself.
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How the Dead Live
How the Dead Live by Will Self (Paperback - 19 Jun 2000)
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