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Book DetailsISBN: 9781409185604
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Book Review: Something to Live For: A page-turning comfort read that will make you laugh and cry by Richard Roper - Reviewed by CloggieA (10 Aug 2019)
How Not To Die Alone (also titled Something To Live For) is the first novel by British author, Richard Roper. Andrew Smith works for the council. It’s not a job people line up to do: he searches the dwellings of the solitary recently-deceased to discover if there might be family or funds to cover the funeral that the council is otherwise obliged to provide.
His department, Death Administrations, is a small one and his boss, Cameron Yates has the sort of fervour that makes people cringe (picture a benign version of David Brent from The Office). Meetings in the “break-out space” are greeted with “the enthusiasm a chicken might if it were asked to wear a prosciutto bikini and run into a fox's den.” His other colleagues, except for their newest staff member, Peggy Green, are definitely less than gracious.
On Peggy’s first day, Andrew takes her to a property inspection; later, as she is recovering with a Guinness in the pub, he confesses that he goes to their funerals if no-one else is likely to: “The idea that they'd not have someone to be with them at the end, to acknowledge that they'd been a person in the world who'd suffered and loved and all the rest of it - he just couldn't bear the thought of it.”
Andrew lives in a four-bedroom townhouse near Dulwich with his lawyer wife, Diane and his children, Steph and David. At least, this is the accidental fiction he has somehow perpetuated at work to give him a “normal” image. Andrew actually lives alone in a dingy flat with his model trains and his Ella Fitzgerald records. The only people he might venture to call friends, he’s never met in real life: they are the people who post on the model train forum.
Despite the absence of remains, their job is often an unpleasant one requiring, in addition to a strong stomach, sensitivity, diplomacy and respect. Working with Peggy turns out to be a pleasure, and Andrew wonders if, for the first time in his life, he might make a real friend. Of course, the problem with that is he’d have to tell her the truth about his life, although Cameron’s latest team-bonding brainwave may make it a moot point, when it will be Andrew’s turn to host his colleagues at dinner.
Roper’s first novel is a wonderfully heart-warming and uplifting tale: if there’s no Hollywood ending, there’s the chance of something like one. Readers are likely to recognise one or more of Roper’s characters from everyday life: he gives them insightful observations and wise words; and the underlying themes of maintaining connection and living life to the full are worthy ones.
The comparison to Eleanor Oliphant is quite valid as this novel also has a protagonist living a dysfunctional life as a result of earlier traumatic events, even if Andrew's social ineptitude is less severe than Eleanor's; certainly, his sense of empathy is more refined.
There's plenty of humour both in the dialogue and Andrew's inner monologue but there are also some lump-in-the-throat moments as he gradually shares more of the heart-breaking details of his adolescence and early adulthood. This is an outstanding debut novel and more from this talented author will be most welcome.
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