I've been looking forward to writing my review of this book for a long time. I waited to do it until I knew I would have the proper amount of time to devote to it. I began writing this as we drove home to IL from a weekend spent in OH for extended family Christmas celebrations and a family wedding. I just finished the review today. To start...
Here's the first chapter of the book, in total:
"Hello. My name is Robert, and I haven't been dead for sixty-three days now."
Is that a grabber, or what? It certainly grabbed me! I couldn't read that and not continue reading to see what the story held. I read on and was not disappointed. This book possesses two things that easily draw me in:
1) humor 2) the setting is England.
Robert is a radio dj who presents a middle-of-the-night jazz program to a minimal audience. He lives with his fiancee, Jo.
On impulse one day Robert bought some cheap towels...some really, really cheap towels; three for a fiver. When he arrived home Jo told him, unequivocally, to return them to the shop. Robert dutifully returned the towels to the shop the very next day. Doing so made him about half an hour late for an appointment. Rob was on his way to a pub to meet a locally legendary trumpet player whom he was going to interview after watching him play a set with his band. Upon arriving at the pub, however, Rob found that being a half an hour late had saved him from an untimely death. An impatient tanker truck had tried to overtake a slower vehicle just before two lanes dropped to one. The tanker jumped the curb and ran right into the pub, killing everyone in it.
This affected Rob. He could have died, right? And so he became pretty obsessive about the fact that a seemingly meaningless decision prevented his death. Are there, then, any truly meaningless decisions? Could all decisions really be quite important ones? How can one make a decisions when they don't know what the repercussions of doing so might really be? Rob describes his situation in this manner:
"I could effortlessly and instantly decide, while calmly driving along, to swing the car around and race across London to Elizabeth's house - the options were laughably crisply defined - but how in ****** **** was I supposed to decide between a blue pen and a black pen?"
Rob became quite literally handicapped by his inability to face these decisions head on.
Quoting Rob..."Does no one ever listen to a thing I say?" I replied, starting to boil. "I can make up my mind about big things--big things are easy. You can see the paths and take a considered stab at where they'll lead with the bigthings. It's the small thing that are the problem." That's at least what he thinks at the beginning of the book. Will he feel differently by the time we reach the final page?
Rob again "I began, illustratively, pointing an angery finger off in a random direction. "there was a knife and a fork in the sink today, and I couldn't decide which to wash up first. I stood there for forty-five minutes. Knife?
Or fork? Or leave them both? Or do them both together? That could be a life-or-death decision, you know,
Keith? It could. Every single thing you do is a life-or-death decision. And, when it's 'Do I try methadone?'
or 'Should I get married?' or 'Shall I stay around gradually falling to bits, or try as hard as I possibly can to
sort myself out?' then you have the important information available. ~You can work out what's the smart,
or at least the smartest, option. But how the ******* **** do you decide whether to wash up a knife or a fork first?"
Robert's inability to function causes him to take a leave of absence from work...sort of. It actually will appear to the newest followers of his radio show that he is on the time-clock still while trying to find that answers that will help him to begin living normally again. While on this "quest" three other people end up joining him.
Zach is an American soldier who wasn't killed while on a very dangerous military mission in Bosnia...all of the people on the mission with him were killed. Zach believes he has been sent by God to help Rob on his mission.
Elizabeth is a teacher who was sent to Bulgaria for a seminar. She left the hotel in the middle of the night to buy cigarettes and returned to find that the hotel and the fifty-three people inside it had burned to the ground. She also is not dead. Elizabeth called Zach's program only to tell him that she knows how he feels; now she simply wishes she were dead. Beth e-mails Rob through his private e-mail and tells him he is "in danger". The important thing is that Rob believes that they will all find answers if they will just stay together and search for them.
Together a variety of the book's characters face: the possibility of: killer rats, an exploding warehouse, the threat of a shadowy sect of fanatics, and pants on fire. I have to stop there as I don't want to spoil the fun. If my remarks have drwan you in, read the book.
I have to say that I love reading fiction by British authors. Their use of the English language has such depth and variety. Phrases such as "risible paucity" sound so much more interesting than "laughable scarcity", and describing one's self as being "disastorously bromidic" is so much more romantic sounding that "terribly dull". Rob describes sex in this manner, for instance, "It's love speaking through the medium of excess." I like that.
Funny quotes from the book:
At one point Rob tries to find the right words to tell Elizabeth that he didn't expect her to be the type of person he has found her to be. The opportunity exasperates him and he says "I mean, you read books. You're 'bookish.' Aren't books and sex pretty much an either-or choice?"
Elizabeth counters with this: "A notion that could only possibly have gestated in the low-ceilinged brain of someone who doesn't read enough books." I'll leave it that so as not to spoil where she went with her reply.
"And it's a bit crap to evade a psychotic attacker only to go home and get killed by your girlfriend." Rob pg 40
"I like good books. Actually, I like ******* terrible books too~in the sense that bad writing infuriates me into something not unlike euphoria. Hatred is a terribly invigorating emotion, don't you find? And durable too. Hatred is by far the longest pleasure; 'Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.'"
Elizabeth pg 105
"Where do middle class people go when they injure themselves? When they trip over their brochures for holiday homes in Tuscany and fall heavily against their Agas, what do they do?"
Rob pg 130
Sometimes when reading a book I get the idea that I should play 'casting supervisor' with the book, pretending I am casting it for a movie. Sometimes it works out really great, as it did this time!
Here's my cast:
Danny Wallace as Rob
Vince Vaughn as Zach
Elizabeth Hurley as Elizabeth....(age 46)
Emma Watson... as Beth ( http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3911223040/nm0914612 )
I even have a song to be used as part of the soundtrack! During the scene of the fire at the
empty warehouse I think it would be fab to have this song playing amidst all the craziness:
(Note: this book contains: adult themes, sex, bad language, violence)