There are times when you read a book and simply know it should be a movie. This was my overwhelming feelings while reading Richard Roper’s “How Not to Die Alone”, a quirky debut novel that is both bitter sweet and darkly funny.
The book’s protagonist Andrew works in the death department of an English council office. It’s his job to check the homes and belongings of those who die alone, looking for a next of kin or at the very least enough money to pay for the funeral, and Andrew is empathic enough to attend each of the funerals of those unfortunate souls. Unknown to his co-workers who think Andrew is married and has two children due to a fantasy/lie he told during his job interview, instead he goes home nightly to a small apartment and his beloved Ella Fitzgerald records. Andrew seems destined to become one of his own clients until the department hires Peggy, and Andrew catches a glimpse of what could be his happy ending. Suddenly, he’s trapped within his lie, either he admits to his coworkers that he has been deceiving them for years about his personal life or he may lose his chance with Peggy.
While much of the story is written for comic effect, it’s the self reflection that Andrew goes through about the undercurrent of loneliness in modern society where someone can have hundreds of facebook friends and yet not know their own neighbours that takes the book to a deeper level. Both Andrew and Peggy are characters that have been damaged by life and watching them navigate the building of a relationship can run the gamut from hilarious to cringe worthy. The novel fits firmly in the school of books like Maria Semple’s “Where Did You Go, Bernadette?”, or “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman, and I am already looking forward to his next novel.