Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review of The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (Vintage)

The City is a vast, sprawling place of many districts populated by the dead who are still remembered by the living. Once the last person to have memories of the deceased also dies then they vanish from The City. As a killer virus quickly spreads across the globe, the turnover of people in The City speeds up and then starts to contract. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is stranded in an Antarctic research station. Her only hope of rescue is to trek across the ice to another larger station. Quickly the population of The City shrinks to the point where many of those remaining realise that the only link between them is that they know Laura. She might have escaped the virus, but she is faced with plenty of icy challenges.

The premise of the book is a nice one, enabling an exploration of life, death and memory. The tale is told in an engaging voice, with chapters alternating between life in The City and Laura’s journey across the ice. While it is thought-provoking, ultimately the story kind of fizzles out and there are a lot of unanswered questions – related to the virus, but more particularly The City, which seemed a moribund kind of place. It is a kind of mirror of the real world, with people frequenting cafes and plays and undertaking work; yet, nothing much seems to happen. People stay the same age for the rest of their existence; social relations are kind of sterile, with people congregating with family and friends from their former lives; there’s little crime or violence or exploitation or social experimentation, or excitement. Presumably people who have lived rural lives just become city dwellers when they die. It seemed a lost opportunity not to do more with The City other than it being a setting for the deceased to live. As it is, the story is somewhat underwhelming despite the nice hook.

No comments: