Like Jacob Marley’s chain, but with fat women
‘How the Dead Live’ is my favourite will Self novel. Not just as it is one of the easier ones to read, as although I really loved ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Shark’, they are like reading James Joyce, where sentences have to often be re-read, not just to absorb the depth of the words, but also work out what the hell is going on. With ‘How the Dead Live’ there is a similarity with Joyce, but not so much with the writing, but the characters. Lily Bloom, the star of the book, reminds me very much of Molly Bloom, in Ulysses, that same closeness to her inner world, and as the Evening Standard said in their review of Self’s book, ‘Lily Bloom may be an old cow, but she’s good company.’ I think that’s really important, we don’t have to really like or admire a protagonist, as long as they are entertaining, and good company.
The subject matter is what appeals to be most. I’m not religious, but my childhood was, and the older I get the more I think if there is an afterlife, it’s probably not that glamourous. When Lily dies, she finds herself living on a different plane to mortals, but still in a part of London called ‘Dulston’, where she still has to hold down a rubbish office job with other dead people, and she can’t even enjoy mortal pleasures such as touch or taste. She is followed around by her obnoxious son who died in childhood, (at a time when he didn’t like her), and her tiny fossilised foetus. The lithopedion falls out of her soon after she dies, and sings songs from the 60s as that’s what she/he last heard through the wall of the womb. Lily can spy on her family, but that’s not a whole lot of fun, either, so death is really just a poorer version of living. Her goal is to be re-born, which becomes her motivation to succeed, and be good at being dead, so she doesn’t have to be it any more.
The only thing that worries me personally about the world of Lily’s death is ‘The Fats’. Lily finds herself stuck with three, fat, wailing women, all like her, made of the weight she gained and then lost throughout her life. All her fat had to go somewhere every time she went on a diet, and like Jacob Marley’s chain, in life she was forging fat women she would have to carry around in death. I don’t know if I’ve gained and list enough weight to make up three whole humans, but there could well be some kind of goat-sized collection of my fat waiting to catch up with me as I walk towards the light.