Something to Live For by Richard Roper is being billed as ‘the most uplifting and life-affirming debut of the year’. And given it’s about a man whose job it is to visit the homes of recently deceased who have no obvious family / friends, to try to find a single person who knew them or a will (or money to pay for the funeral); it could be very depressing.
But it’s not. It’s a reminder that while there’s crappy stuff happening in the world and… yes, people die alone all of the time, there are still kind and generous people to be found. Not to mention the fact that people live small, rich and happy lives, or sad and loud lives we may know nothing about.
Something to Live For
by Richard Roper
Published by Hachette Australia
on June 27th 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Humour
All Andrew wants is to be normal. He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that's what he's told people.
The truth is, his life isn't exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him.
Because in all Andrew's efforts to fit in, he's forgotten one important thing: how to really live. And maybe, it's about time for him to start.
This book offers up delightful characters. Andrew is living with a huge secret and I think it’s pretty obvious so I’ll offer this spoiler.
He inadvertently told his boss he was married with kids in his interview and though he intended to clarify it, it’s gotten waaaay out of hand. Years have passed and – in some ways – Andrew almost believes his story. It’s somewhat of a comfort to him… an escape from his everyday life.
He took this job at the Council 5 years before we meet him and he’s responsible for ‘inspections’ of properties after someone’s died. Predominantly to search for signs of next of kin (or anyone to contact really), wills / requests or money stashed away to pay for a funeral.
When we meet him he’s attending the funeral of a man who died alone. It’s not part of his job he explains but he’ll often attend if he believes no one will be there.
And the idea that they’d not have someone there 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. p 71
He comments on the fact the Council has paid for the coffin which will be dropped ‘tetris-style’ into a plot that’s opened and reused to house bodies of those unclaimed by others.
He takes his job seriously though does it with a sense of humour and smidge of irony. He keeps much of himself shut away from his colleagues. We learn early on that something’s happened at some point in Andrew’s life. Indeed, his mostly-estranged sister implies as much. Although having said that, his colleagues are twats so there’s no great loss there.
That is until Peggy joins the small team. She’s on ‘house inspection’ duty with Andrew and is as candid and open as Andrew is reserved and closed. And they get on famously.
Of course Andrew’s life is a mess. Not to mention a lie. His only joy, other than his job – is his fascination for model trains and he takes us into his online world where he’s part of a select forum of train lovers.
I found this element interesting as I’ve been relying on a few online friends recently and it’s a reminder – though the internet and social media often deserves its criticism – it can often bring people together. It can offer a sense of community and allow one not to feel alone… even if they are physically isolated.
He realises it’s addictive though… “it meant there were times where he could modify his online persona to mask his real-life inadequacies – this, he had realised early on, was the entire point of the internet…” p 35
Like me Andrew lives alone, though he does often have charming off-screen conversations to a camera, as if on a reality TV or cooking show. (And not in a weird, possibly delusional way, but a funny and entertaining way!)
Sadly I could relate to Andrew far too much. And of course his fear of becoming one of his clients mostly goes unsaid.
I loved Roper’s witty and occasionally droll writing. He manages to make a book about death light hearted and not at all distasteful or devastating.
It’s endearing. And although Andrew might not have all of the quirk of the now-famous Eleanor Oliphant, he’s certainly a likeable and engaging character despite (and in spite of) his foibles.
This book is a reminder that there’s often light and kindness in an otherwise dark world.
Something to Live For by Richard Roper was published by Hachette in Australia and is now available in paperback, with hardcover released in late June.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.