Wednesday, July 10, 2019
How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper
Andrew rubbed his eyes and yawned. "All I want is to live in a converted train station on top of a mountain with sea views and Wif-Fi and easy access to central London, is that so much to ask?"
"Have another cookie," Peggy said, patting him on the top of the head.
~ from p. 314 of How Not to Die Alone
Andrew's job is a strange one. He's tasked with finding relatives or friends of those who die alone in London. He digs through their possessions, searching for clues to where he might find someone who knew the deceased and any financial accounts the deceased may own. Barring the discovery of both, the public health will pay for what amounts to a pauper's funeral, of sorts, which Andrew feels obligated to attend so that nobody is buried without at least one person present.
But, Andrew has a tricky problem. When he applied for the job, he wasn't actually listening to his future boss when he was asked a particular question. Andrew played along, giving a couple of vague answers before realizing he'd just claimed he had a wife and two children. Andrew lives alone. He has a sister but no other relatives and is probably destined to die alone, just like the people whose funerals he attends. Instead of confessing to his mistake, Andrew has drawn up an elaborate spreadsheet to help him keep all his lies straight. And, 6 years have passed since he was hired. It's really too late to tell the truth, isn't it?
Then, things grow even worse. The boss, in his eternal quest to stir up camaraderie amongst the employees, has decided that all the employees should take turns hosting a dinner at their homes, so that everyone can get to know each other better and meet each other's families. Andrew, of course, has no family. He has a pretend wife who makes loads of money and two fake children, but in reality he lives in a flat that he hasn't kept up well and he's got a train running through his home. He spends his off time hanging out in a chat room with a few other people who are even more obsessive than he is about trains.
When a new employee named Peggy shows up, Andrew's world is lightened by her presence. She's a cheery and delightful companion when digging for clues in the homes of the deceased and not afraid to sneak a coffee or a little personal time in the middle of office hours. Suddenly, Andrew feels like he's living, again. But, Peggy is married and Andrew has a fake wife and a looming date to serve dinner to his fellow employees. Will Andrew be able to confess to the complicated web of lies he's created? When he realizes his job is on the line, is there any way at all out of the disastrous corner he's painted himself into?
Highly recommended - OK, the bad up front. There are some descriptions of yucky smells and sights in the homes of the deceased. Some may find that off-putting. To be honest, it didn't bother me at all, but as I was reading I was aware that it might be a problem to some readers. It's really just setting, though. The characters, the dialogue, and the story are funny and charming and awful (some of the characters are the kind you love to hate) and How Not to Die Alone is going on my favorites list for 2019. Andrew is clearly a wounded soul but why? What happened to make him retreat from the world, in general? What will Andrew do about his lies and his growing affection for Peggy? There are so many questions that kept the pages turning. And, I absolutely loved how they were resolved. I haven't given it all away, I promise. How Not to Die Alone is a delightful story of grief, loneliness, and the healing power of friendship. Very British in setting and humor although I noticed the Americanization of some words and spellings in this printing.
I told my physical therapist about the book and he said, "Ooooh. That needs to be a movie." I agree. I think it would be easily adaptable to the screen. Peggy and Andrew visit a bookstore, at one point, and I looked it up. It's real and it sounds marvelous. I've added that bookstore to my wish list of places to go. Book lovers will appreciate the bookstore scenes for the setting alone.
I received a copy of How Not to Die Alone from G. P. Putnam's Sons (unsolicited, I think, but it might have been requested via Shelf Awareness; either way, I was excited to get it). Many thanks!
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