Wednesday 23 February 2011

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Household Guide to Dying is a moving, witty, and uplifting novel about Delia, who writes an acerbic and wildly popular household advice column. When Delia realizes that she is losing her long battle with cancer, she decides to organize her remaining months - and her husband and children's future lives without her - the same way she has always ordered their household. Unlike the many faithful readers of her advice column - people who are rendered lost and confused when faced with dirty shirt collars - Delia knows just what to do. She will leave a list for her daughter's future wedding; fill the freezer with homemade sausages, stews, and sauces; and even (maddeningly) offer her husband suggestions for a new wife. She'll compile a lifetime's worth of advice for her children, and she'll even write the ultimate "Household Guide to Dying" for her fans. There is one item on her list, however, that proves too much even for "Dear Delia," and it is the single greatest task she had set for herself. Yet just as Delia is coming to terms with this, an unexpected visitor helps her believe in her life's worth in a way that no list ever could.

I first found this book over at Page Turners, while looking for another book for the Australia section of the Global Reading Challenge. After saying over and over again how I need to cut down on the amount of challenges I'm doing, I went and upped my participation level to Medium, meaning I've got tor read 2 books from each continent now, instead of one....Anyway! 

I expected The Household Guide to Dying to be much heavier than it actually was. For a book about death, it is very much, as the subtitle suggests, a story about life. My favourite part of this book, was the references to Mrs Beeton, and keeping hens. This is something that I really want to do. I'm not sure why, but for absolutely years I've been seized with an insane desire to keep hens, and have fresh eggs in the morning. Well, if I'm honest, actually I'd just like to have a farm,but don't think I could bring myself to kill the animals...

Aside from that, I liked the way that the story expanded, to involve not just the present and the future, but also the past. I have to say that while I enjoyed the novel, I did find a bit disjointed and slightly less than coherent. The story of Delia's past never really connected with her present for me. While I understand that when people have a tragedy in their past they will often try to distance themselves from it, it wasn't like she'd cut it out of her life completely, but nor had she managed to reconcile it with her life in the present. Despite constantly talking about the fact that she is dying, it didn't seem to really affect her emotionally until the end. However, I did think that her husband, Archie, was the strongest character from this point of view; throughout the story, he is clearly struggling to come to terms with what is happening, and the book follows his emotional journey much more so than Delia's. There were some moving scenes, but I did feel that the book was ultimately more about other people's experiences and tragedies than Delia's own.

I read this for the Global Reading Challenge, but although I will still count it, it did not have a very strong sense of place for me. It is set in Australia, but really it could be anywhere, as there is not much reference to weather, culture, or place throughout the novel.

Overall, I read the book quickly, and enjoyed it, but it didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations.

Rating: ***

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