2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Dark, funny, thought provoking,
This review is from: The Old Romantic (Paperback)
There is an old joke, the body of which I've long forgotten, but the punch line remains with me constantly: "The only thing in life you HAVE to do is die".
It's a premise which Ken, the protagonist in this excellent new novel, is taking extremely seriously. He volunteers at the local funeral parlour run by the larger than life Audrey, project manages his own send off down to the handles on the coffin. However, arranging the devoted family around his death bed proves to be a just a little bit more problematic, particularly as he hasn't seen one of his sons for over 20 years. It's the cue for a parade of what at first sight seem to be comic grotesques in the vein of a Mike Leigh film, which Dean artfully moulds into compelling characters. There are a number of incidents which had me snorting with suppressed laughter which then turned into cheek burning, toe curling embarrassment as I recalled how my own family dealt with the key themes of class, changing values and dysfunctional family relationships. This is the real joy of the novel: Louise Dean uses her trademark knowing observations on the absurdity of the quotidien to make you examine your own relationships and values. I don't want to give away the resolution to Ken's painstakingly planned death, but I think others will enjoy the unexpected and unexpectedly uplifting denouement as much as I did.
I devoured this book in a single sitting and then returned again and again to the brilliant set pieces. I suspect that long after the details fade, like the long forgotten joke, this novel will continue to make me think about what's really important in life.