Sunday, 13 May 2012

Love and Other Near Death Experiences by Mil Millington (4/5)

The back says: Rob Garland is getting married in two months. Oddly, however, this is the least of his problems. More vexing than the seating arrangements, the choice of wedding stationery - more even that the savagely obscene expense of everything - is the fact that Rob should be dead: and he knows it. He should have been sitting in a pub at the very moment it was wiped from the earth… but he wasn’t – thanks only to a series of pointless coincidences.

Now he’s paralysed by the knowledge that every decision he makes, no matter how tiny, has potentially enormous, and even fatal, consequences. Faced with an ultimatum from his girlfriend to either sort himself out – which means taking less than two hours to choose a pair of underpants – or call the wedding off, he sets about trying to come to terms with the fact that he's still inexplicably breathing.

After pouring his heart out to the listeners on his late-night radio jazz show, he soon finds himself teamed up with others who really ought not to be alive either. And that's when things become yet more worrying: because it turns out that their search to understand why they've each remained oddly alive might very well end up killing them all.

Life; death, defining moments; existential angst and whether or not you should take sugar in your coffee – Love and Other Near Death Experiences is a jack-knifing comedy about those things which are no laughing matter.

I say: Oh goodness me, how I laughed and laughed while reading this. It was incredibly funny, and Millington’s witty, and often utterly ridiculous, writing is right up my alley. Before going on about how hilarious I found this, I feel I have to point out that I would classify this as a very British type of humour.

Perhaps The Office more than Monty Python – but I’m no humour expert.

At first, I thought Rob was a tad annoying; he was a whiny and wishy-washy, and even though I understood his dilemma, it felt like he took too far. It wasn’t until his fiancée told him to sort himself out that I started really liking him. He didn’t really change as a person; he just went from a man paralysed by the most miniscule (in)decisions to a man that just went for it.

Went for it regardless of how outright absurd it was.

Last year I read The Society of Others by William Nicholson, and this very much reminded me of that; especially the slight Kafkaesque quality of the plot. I couldn’t help but read it in one sitting because I was determined to find out how it would all end. And not just whether or not our anti-hero would get killed, but more specifically, if he survived, would he stop second guessing every decision he’d face for the rest of his life.

There’s a lot more to this book than just the action and humour; Millington does offer a lot of varying options/opinions on fate, chance, belief, and pretty much all of the major questions we ask ourselves from time to time. And also the questions that we may not ask ourselves that often, unless you’re as neurotic as I am, like why am I still here?

So, a 4/5 because as much as I loved this, there were times when the plot went a little too far, and times when I thought Rob was being a little unbelievably thick. I would actually love to see this made into a film and then bitch about how the book was so much better.

Go ahead. Get your torches. I’ll be waiting.

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