Title: Something to Live For
Author: Richard Roper
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: July 28, 2020
Genre: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Summary: Andrew works for the Death Department. His job is to pick through the homes of the recently deceased to try to find a next of kin, and any money that can be used to cover funeral expenses. His days follow a routine, though his imaginary life provides quite a bit of color to the mundane. Until Peggy starts working with him. More spontaneous and open than he, she brings a colorful streak into his life, one that has him wondering if he’s doing this whole life thing wrong, and maybe he should start living more.
I saw this book on Netgalley last year, when it was titled How Not to Die Alone. But, since I’d only recently started with Netgalley and this was published by a major publisher, I forced myself to pass on it and pick it up in the bookstore instead. Last summer, a few months after it was released, I did see a beautiful hardcover copy in our local bookstore, but I already had my arms full of books, so had to pass again. When I saw it, for the third time, back on Netgalley under a new title, I knew I was supposed to at least try to read it. Even though I’m approved more often from major publishers, I’m still surprised when I get a book, so I’ve really been looking forward to this one. Of course, I much prefer the funnier original title, but the book is still a lot of fun, probably regardless of what it’s called.
The Characters: Quite Amusingly Proper
All of the characters are terribly, properly British, which shouldn’t be surprising as it takes place in London. I’m always amused by how they come off as much more liberated than the usual stoic, proper stereotype, though there still is quite a bit of the proper Brit that comes out! These characters were no exception. They were very proper, even worrying a bit about how they appeared to others, but also seemed so much more open about drinking and sex as though it’s quite normal in day-to-day life. And maybe it is. I’ve only met a handful of British people in person and they all seemed very polite and proper, so I couldn’t say for sure. But I was constantly amused by these characters. They were fun and annoying and had many sides to them.
At first, I found them to not be terribly exciting. Their lives, especially Andrew’s, felt quite boring and routine, very mundane, though Andrew’s imaginary life was incredibly fascinating. But then I got to know them and got to see them interact and react to each other. They were an odd bunch, but very upfront, and somehow cared about each other. They initially felt like disparate parts, but came together in interesting ways so that I was certain I didn’t want to see any of them go.
Andrew was most peculiar to me. I’ve tried looking it up and reading several reviews to see if my thoughts were in any way justified. It doesn’t look like it, but I kept getting the feeling he was on the autism spectrum. Of course, the way I know that disorder is also likely to differ from how it’s known in other countries as I reside in the US, but several of his quirks came off to me in such a way that I couldn’t help but wonder. Of course, there are likely cultural differences I don’t understand and maybe the characterization is quite normal in British society.
I adored Peggy. She was a splash of color next to Andrew, which really highlighted just how routine and mundane his life was. It almost made me sad. But she was so vibrant and so honest in her characterization that I couldn’t help but love her. She made mistakes, tried to believe the best in people, and really cared about others. It was hard to not like her.
The Setting: London, With Lots of Dead People
Much of the book takes place in London, but I didn’t get the feeling that fleshing out the setting was a big focus. It felt British in the way the characters behaved and spoke, but there were no long passages or descriptions to describe every detail of every street or house so it was clear this takes place in London.
Instead, it was very subtle, very well woven into the story. It was in the way the characters just popped into a pub in the middle of the day or routinely took the tube to and from work. I have no idea what any of the buildings looked like, how the streets were laid out, or even what people were wearing. It was delightful because I could focus on the people and the story and just feel like I was wandering along behind them, as though everything they saw was just so normal that it didn’t merit a whole paragraph of description. I suppose it assumed some knowledge of London, but I think it also made me believe this story could be happening anywhere, that someone could be lonely but choosing to try not to die alone.
The Plot: Sad and Funny
This managed to be both sad and funny. It went back and forth between the present and Andrew’s past, so the reader really gets a full picture of Andrew. It was absolutely Andrew’s story, anyways, what with him talking about his real and imagined lives and the changes he chooses to make. It’s the story of a lonely man who doesn’t fully know he’s lonely until Peggy breezes into his life. It’s the story of a man being brought back to life.
Still, it’s kind of morbid in the way is talks so much about death, though of course it deals with death since Andrew and Peggy work for the Death Department. I really like that that was where they worked since Andrew seemed almost in a dead state himself. And then the ending just felt perfect and I adored the changes Andrew went through and the realizations he had. It wasn’t easy for him, and he fought against it, but the tide of change was coming and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. It was incredibly sad, though, when his imaginary life came crashing down around him.
But this book is also funny. The characters were interesting and brought a lot of life to it. They each had their place in the story and each were revealed at the perfect time to add color to Andrew’s life and move the story along. They were funny, and I especially liked a parenthetical piece about a marshmallow. It was amusing in the way sometimes a sad situation needs a bit of brightness to lift the mood a little before it becomes somber again. This book had a brilliant balance of both while also providing glimmers of hope for Andrew.
The one thing I will complain about is that some of it felt too contrived. Like with the dinners Andrew’s boss forces everyone to do. It was key to getting the story going, but, since so many of his other ideas had fallen apart, it was surprising how this one was forced. There were a few other pieces that felt like they didn’t fit perfectly, but this was annoying and kept making me squirm in my seat.
Overall: Immensely Enjoyable, But Also Sad
Overall, I’m very glad I did finally get the chance to read this book, more than a year after How Not to Die Alone was first published. After having read so many novels by British authors that take place in and around Great Britain, it was easy to slide into this one and really helped me enjoy the story immensely. The characters were quirky and fun, very colorful and so different from each other. The story was sad, but lovely at the same time. It was a little boring at first, but then I became invested in Andrew’s life and just really wanted to find out how everything was going to crash down around him and what would happen next for him.
How many cups of tea will you need?
4 should be just perfect
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.