I gave this book to an elderly friend (I’m great on birthday presents – book about assisted dying? Just the ticket, happy birthday!) She told me off. She said it was a very depressing gift, this book about death. Whatever was I thinking of?
I felt aggrieved. Hadn’t she been giving me books about death for the last thirty years? Many of them are celebrated on these pages even! I thought we liked books about death! We do dark fiction – dancing with death is our trademark party trick …. And don’t we love to dance?
Certainly the dark-fiction genres that this blog works to celebrate are choc-a-bloc with death. The inevitable murdered woman at the core of the detective thriller (sexy; if only I could look that sexy!) the many victims of war and crime, (bang bang bang, how exciting and instantly forgetable!), the heroic guy giving up his life to save someone else (shed a little tear), death at the hands of dragons or wizards (way to go!!!), dystopian fiction with its global deaths from war or climate change or pandemic (oops…)
So why on earth should my friend get in a twist about this little novel about more ordinary deaths? It’s not as if we didn’t know, she and I. We’re going to die. We’re not likely to make it, either of us, into any of the thrilling kinds of death listed above, so no one will write novels about us, but we are cast iron certain to feature in a some other sort of death, from age or disease or absent-mindedly crashing our car while out buying groceries. Comes to us all, even, I assume, to the survivors who feature in the books I blog about. (I’ll draw a veil over Jesus – I did review the New Testament once, and his case is disputed, but anyway, all the rest of the people in the books I write about – they may survive till the end of the the narrative but they’re still going to end up dead. ) Even that heroically rescued maiden, all flowing locks and fresh complexion, she’s not going to end where the book ends, on that note of triumph, as she is snatched from the jaws of death by her hero. No. The jaws of death are still chomping in the background, and thanks to all your narrative heroism, she’s going to get wrinkles and a bad back and breast cancer and you’re going to be visiting her in a hospice one day while the drugs drip through and someone tries to deal with her constipation or incontinence…
Those other, uncelebrated deaths are what this book is about. It’s a book about ordinary people, not particularly heroic, entirely recognisable from anyone’s life experience, with lives as interesting as mine and my friend’s, (give or take a little bit), who are confronted with the thing they always knew but didn’t want to think about. I’m going to die. They just don’t want to risk it getting nasty – isn’t the avoidance of a nasty death a reasonable topic for dark fiction? They don’t want to die in pain, or lonely or frightened, too weak to make a decision about anything. They are feisty people, they want to die as they have lived, they want to take the matter in hand. That’s a great topic for a dark book. Dark books aren’t about people who just wait with their eyes closed.
I liked how they thought about it. I liked the business-like team that were working to make available what these characters might choose. I liked the pragmatisim. I liked the various, convoluted ways everyone reached their points of decision. Which might or might not be what we expect. But I do know what my own decision is. Please Mr Kregas, put me on the mailing list. When the time comes, I want to take a cruise. Me and my friend together maybe. That’s a death I could live with.
Review by De Gevallene