The Brief History of the Dead (SPOILER ALERT)

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The Brief History of the Dead (SPOILER ALERT)

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1fannyprice
Jan. 7, 2008, 3:08pm

I just finished this book and was disappointed. Here's my review. Can someone explain to me why there was so much great buzz about this book?

"Hmmm... I am not really sure what to think of this book. I read it very quickly - in two sittings over less then 24 hours - maybe too quickly. At the end I was left feeling unsatisfied, for reasons I can't really explain. I loved the first chapter and I found most of the first 10 chapters very engrossing (this was part one of my two-sitting read), but when I picked the book up and read the last couple chapters my interest was really flagging. Although I understood "what happened" in the end, I confess, I didn't really understand the significance of the ending. It is not that I wanted clear "answers" in the strictest sense - Is there a God? What happens next to the people in the City? Is Laura dead? - since I already feel like the book told a little too much that maybe should have been left ambiguous. I knew what happened, I guess I just didn't care much by the time I made it through.

I loved the premise - the idea that people continue to live on in some form as long as there are still people to remember them. Puckett's attempt to figure out just exactly how many people he can recall to memory made me try to do the same...it really becomes an incredible number. I also loved the idea that a life is made from seemingly insignificant memories, rather than from big dramatic things. Because she could remember them and therefore re-create them in the City, none of her memories of anyone were really insignificant, if that makes sense.

I always like novels with intertwining stories, especially when its not immediately obvious how the two are related, although the relationship between the two stories in this book does come to light pretty quickly. The prose was often beautiful - the images of Antarctica's vast, white nothingness in particular - and there was some fun free association. I kind of like "lost in nature"/exploration disaster stories, so I was really interested in Laura's story, at least initially. But it did start to drag once she left the other research station (not the one she was originally stationed on).

I thought the characters were rather weak but I didn't really mind the weak characterization of the people living in the City, since they were really only refractions of other people's memories of them, it kind of made sense that they would be sort of simplistic characters. What I did mind was the weak characterization of Laura, since she and she alone is supposed to hold our attention for half the book. Eventually her struggle to survive was simply too repetitive to hold much interest for me, despite being compelling at first. I'm sure that her ordinariness is intentional and probably even essential, but I wished she was more interesting.

What I disliked most of all, quite honestly, was the incredibly awkward, forced, and obvious social commentary, especially when it was a plot point as well. (Of course its the Coke - that was obvious from the first time a brand name was mentioned.) This was like the greatest hits of social criticism - terrorism, global warming, evil multi-national corporations, evil governments creating superviruses, police states, extinction, plagues, etc. I love when authors use a futuristic or fictional environment to reflect on social issues of the current period, but this just felt so obvious... It really interfered with my enjoyment of the book. And in the end, I didn't really see what point Brockmeier was making about the world in which Laura had lived/our world - that soda is bad? Get your water from more than one source? Corporate greed will destroy the planet?

An Amazon reviewer commented, and I tend to agree, that this might have worked better as a short novella. There seemed to be a lot of filler, especially toward the end of the novel and especially given that many of the books 'secrets' are given away pretty early on - although I did appreciate that the author didn't make these elements part of a big, final 'reveal', since they were pretty obvious from the beginning of the story.

Halfway though this book, I would have recommended it to everyone. Having finished it, I would probably tell them not to bother. Ultimately a disappointment - left me feeling empty."

2cal8769
Bearbeitet: Jan. 29, 2008, 5:56pm

You have summed up my feelings exactly. In fact I talked to my friends about reading the book but in the end I donated it to the library for their fundraiser book sale.

3Medellia
Jan. 28, 2008, 9:46pm

Add me to the list of people who were quite disappointed. Great premise--I just wish that a more skilled author had written it.