Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

This is one of the few books I’ve literally not been able to put down and had to read in one sitting. Its premise is one I had never seen before, as of last year when I read it and still, and that’s pretty rare where fantasy novels are concerned.

The odd-numbered chapters of this book deal with a place simply called “The City,” where dead people live until they are forgotten on Earth. At one time the city was huge, and no inhabitant could ever dream of meeting everyone who lived there. But now the city is shrinking, and no one knows why. The even-numbered chapters tell the story of a woman named Laura Byrd who is trapped in Antarctica, alone at a research station with no means of communicating with the rest of the world. She slowly withdraws into her own thoughts, and most importantly her memories.

Kevin Brockmeier weaves these two stories together masterfully, constantly dropping hints but never revealing too much of the story at one time. Each clue slowly makes what is happening more clear, making for a gripping read. Even if you guess the story like I did, as it unfolds you're drawn more and more into the surreal experience of listening to Laura’s thoughts as if they were your own, and you want the story to be complete.

Each character is fully formed with all the good and bad qualities of any other person you would meet on the street, and their strange situations only make that more clear. I didn't find them personally compelling as individuals, but that wasn't quite the point.

The important thing to remember when you pick this up is that it's not your typical fantasy book or thriller. It's more literary. The plot moves slowly and it's very introspective, without a lot of "fantasy." Be prepared to sit and think, or just sit and drift. Read it when you've got some time on your hands, especially if you're inclined to stop and process while you read.

Buy The Brief History of the Dead


  1. Sounds fantastic. I've never heard of it before.

  2. I've picked this up and put it down several times...I think I've seen it in audio at our library too. I'm going to have to try it now, especially after hearing about the Antarctica connection. Thanks for the great review. B.

  3. I think the sign of a really great review is giving the reader just enough info and opinion to make the book in question irresistible. This is one of those really great reviews, I can't wait to read the book.


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