Frank Brinkley

Great Undertakings

A Trick I Learned from Dead Men


Jonathan Cape 209pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Lee Hart is an undertaker’s apprentice. His mother has died of cancer and Lee must support his younger brother, Ned, and his stepfather, Lester, a man addicted to watching Extreme Makeover. Lester barely communicates with his family; he’s a shadow of the man who once wooed Lee’s mother by singing Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’. But if Lester is a brick wall, then Ned is a thorny hedge: he is deaf, an infirmity caused by mumps when he was denied the MMR vaccination. Lee struggles with his fractious, tender relationship with Ned, who is wild and fond of leaping from his window onto a trampoline in the garden, and taking off half-naked into the countryside. Lee has a sense of the otherness of his brother: ‘it’s not that he doesn’t feel it, he just sees another side. To him normal everyday things are madness and vice versa.’ As Lee cannot sign very well (‘Fuck! Fright you me, I sign him. He laughs’), he battles daily to get through to Ned, who burps and clicks around him.

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