An assured, entertaining debut about an obituary writer who tries to make his life into something more than a collection of random occurrences.
Scratching out an existence as a very unskilled counselor at a London clinic, 20-something Daniel Linnel isn’t going anywhere. After a series of disastrous patient mishaps, he’s fired—which turns out to be a very good thing. First, he meets Laura, an American who works in a bar called The Owl. Then, he gets a job as an obituarist with a London paper: it seems he’s got a knack for writing about the lives of the dead, an art that’s been perfected by his editor, Whittington, who’s turned the obits into one of the most popular sections of the paper. The narrative follows Daniel as he settles into his new job, and there’s further amusing material as Daniel begins writing obits of people who are still alive but seem likely to drop dead presently—and then he gets an advance for a book that will be called “Who’s Who In Hell,” a compilation of obituaries on charming types like Stalin and Jack the Ripper. The rebellious and free-spirited Laura, meanwhile, has a habit of taking lovers at random and going skydiving, but she seems to like the relatively sedate Daniel, who’s delighted with his writing luck. The two live together and seem to be settling into some semblance of domestic bliss—until the other shoe drops with the unpredictable Laura and Daniel’s work on his dead-people book takes a turn toward the life-threatening. British newcomer Chalmers could have taken his first fiction in many directions—black-comic farce, standard coming-of-ager, Gen-X romance—but happily he keeps his focus on the story of two people who don’t seem right for each other but don’t know what else to do.
A funny and exceptionally well-wrought romance that starts in disaster, ends in tragedy, and never loses sight of the manic and surreal in life.