The BookBrowse Review

Published May 15, 2019

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

How Not to Die Alone
by Richard Roper
28 May 2019
336 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN-13: 9780525539889
Genre: Novels
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Smart, darkly funny, and life-affirming, How Not to Die Alone is the bighearted debut novel we all need, for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, it's a story about love, loneliness, and the importance of taking a chance when we feel we have the most to lose.

Andrew's been feeling stuck.

For years he's worked a thankless public health job, searching for the next of kin of those who die alone. Luckily, he goes home to a loving family every night. At least, that's what his coworkers believe.

Then he meets Peggy.

A misunderstanding has left Andrew trapped in his own white lie and his lonely apartment. When new employee Peggy breezes into the office like a breath of fresh air, she makes Andrew feel truly alive for the first time in decades.

Could there be more to life than this?

But telling Peggy the truth could mean losing everything. For twenty years, Andrew has worked to keep his heart safe, forgetting one important thing: how to live. Maybe it's time for him to start.

"A moving and funny look at grief, hope, and the power of human connections." - Kirkus Reviews

"Roper's delightful debut is as funny as it is touching." - Publishers Weekly

"For readers who like to root for a flawed but likable protagonist." - Library Journal

"Wryly funny and quirkily charming – perfect for fans of A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine." - Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters

"Richard Roper uplifts the human spirit and shows us how to embrace life and hope in his wickedly witty debut." - Phaedra Patrick, author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

"Funny, moving and thought-provoking—I loved this." - Clare Mackintosh, author of After the End

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Cloggie Downunder
an outstanding debut novel
How Not To Die Alone (also titled Something To Live For) is the first novel by British author, Richard Roper. Andrew Smith works for the council. It’s not a job people line up to do: he searches the dwellings of the solitary recently-deceased to discover if there might be family or funds to cover the funeral that the council is otherwise obliged to provide.

His department, Death Administrations, is a small one and his boss, Cameron Yates has the sort of fervour that makes people cringe (picture a benign version of David Brent from The Office). Meetings in the “break-out space” are greeted with “the enthusiasm a chicken might if it were asked to wear a prosciutto bikini and run into a fox's den.” His other colleagues, except for their newest staff member, Peggy Green, are definitely less than gracious.

On Peggy’s first day, Andrew takes her to a property inspection; later, as she is recovering with a Guinness in the pub, he confesses that he goes to their funerals if no-one else is likely to: “The idea that they'd not have someone 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.”

Andrew lives in a four-bedroom townhouse near Dulwich with his lawyer wife, Diane and his children, Steph and David. At least, this is the accidental fiction he has somehow perpetuated at work to give him a “normal” image. Andrew actually lives alone in a dingy flat with his model trains and his Ella Fitzgerald records. The only people he might venture to call friends, he’s never met in real life: they are the people who post on the model train forum.

Despite the absence of remains, their job is often an unpleasant one requiring, in addition to a strong stomach, sensitivity, diplomacy and respect. Working with Peggy turns out to be a pleasure, and Andrew wonders if, for the first time in his life, he might make a real friend. Of course, the problem with that is he’d have to tell her the truth about his life, although Cameron’s latest team-bonding brainwave may make it a moot point, when it will be Andrew’s turn to host his colleagues at dinner.

Roper’s first novel is a wonderfully heart-warming and uplifting tale: if there’s no Hollywood ending, there’s the chance of something like one. Readers are likely to recognise one or more of Roper’s characters from everyday life: he gives them insightful observations and wise words; and the underlying themes of maintaining connection and living life to the full are worthy ones.

The comparison to Eleanor Oliphant is quite valid as this novel also has a protagonist living a dysfunctional life as a result of earlier traumatic events, even if Andrew's social ineptitude is less severe than Eleanor's; certainly, his sense of empathy is more refined.

There's plenty of humour both in the dialogue and Andrew's inner monologue but there are also some lump-in-the-throat moments as he gradually shares more of the heart-breaking details of his adolescence and early adulthood. This is an outstanding debut novel and more from this talented author will be most welcome.

Richard Roper is a nonfiction editor at Headline, where he works with authors such as James Acaster, Joel Dommett, Andrew O'Neill, and Frank Turner. How Not to Die Alone is inspired by an article he read about people whose job it is to follow up after people die alone. It is his debut novel.

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