How the Dead Live by Will Self - review by Martyn Bedford

Martyn Bedford

A Novelist at Last

How the Dead Live


Bloomsbury 404pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

In any conversation about Will Self it is a fair bet that, to nods of assent, someone will remark: 'Of course, his stories are better than his novels.' I have been there and done that. I have made the remark, given the nod. But no more. From now on, whenever the Quality vs Quantity Theory of Self crops up, I shall say: 'Ah, but have you read How the Dead Live?' Here, at the third attempt, is a long work of fiction to rank alongside the short-story collections and novellas produced in a prolific period of creativity since his prize-winning debut in 1991. Here, too, is long-awaited evidence of a compassionate underbelly to the shell of Self's intellectual and imaginative virtuosity. For the first time, I found myself moved by his writing.

This is a book infused with the poignancy of the personal. Which is not to suggest that it is autobiographical, but I suspect it is closer to being so than anything he has written previously. The narrator is an ageing Jewish-American woman, long resident in London, who is diagnosed with

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