Death: A Life
By George Pendle
Synopsis: At last, the mysterious, feared, and misunderstood being known only as "Death" talks frankly and unforgettably about his ininitely awful existence. Chronicling his abusive childhood, his near-fatal addiction to Life, his excruciating time in rehab, and the ultimate triumph of his true nature, this long-awaited autobiography finally revels the inner story of one of the most troubling, and troubled, figures in history. For the first time, Death reveals his affairs with the living, his maltreatment at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the ungodly truth behind the infamous "Jesus incident," and the loneliness of being the End of All Things.
Death makes an interesting narrator, I enjoyed the crap out of his role as narrator in The Book Thief, and after seeing this book reviewed on Gabe's blog I thought this would be an interesting, and contrasting, read to Death's previous literary incarnations.
Poor Death, he's lived a hard life. The son of Satan and Sin, he found his purpose in life, by chance, on Earth. As The End of All Things he saw civilisations rise and fall, God take a leave of absence, other religions lose their supporters and stupidity reign supreme. As I'm sure you can imagine though, it got a little tedious to collect souls day in and day out, but it was never a real chore until he met the love of his life, Maud, a woman who has no fear of death. A glitch in the system sees her reincarnated in similar forms for centuries, and Death begins to skive off work to spend some time with her before she's sent off to the Afterlife. She proves to be his downfall, and is the catalyst for his dangerous addiction to life, which results in several decades in a rehab trying to regain his gloomy persona.
In case you haven't grasped it yet, this book is a rather silly and hilarious revision of history. Because of Death's ability to be anywhere and everywhere, George Pendle was able to have some creative fun with historic and mythological events that most people are acquainted with. The humour is the predominant feature of this book, and for the most part it's clever, genuinely funny writing that incites feelings of empathy for Death and the trials he's survived in his very long existence. At times the humour reaches for the easier, or more convenient jokes, which do grow old very quickly, but I found these to be in the minority and spread far enough for them to quickly become overlooked.
I enjoy revised history, even if the only revision is instilling a conversation between Death and a random Roman soldier, or peasant. George Pendle has quite a knack for taking an aspect of myth, text or history and twisting it from how it's typically portrayed just a pinch. So the angel Gabriel is now power-grabbing, God is a little distracted, Jesus is a bit of a dick, all the Gods in mythology existed and were interviewed by God for their roles, and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse didn't include Death (he just had a brief stint with them as the fifth horsemen). Those examples all centre around religion (and primarily Christian religion at that) and while other aspects of history do play a role in this book, religion is one of the key themes and topics. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, even though it's all in good fun, anyone who is particularly religious should probably steer clear of this one. I'm not sure if you would actually be offended by the ideas in the book, but it's definitely something to keep in mind. Perhaps read a chapter or a few other reviews first.
All in all, this was a fun book to read and an easy and enjoyable one at that. The addition of a few photos were a cute touch, even if they were mostly too dark and too small to be clearly viewed. It gets a little flowery towards the end, but overall it was an interesting and funny book that added a unique perspective to the Death/Grim Reaper mythology.