TITLE: A TRICK I LEARNED FROM DEAD MEN
AUTHOR: KITTY ALDRIDGE
PUBLISHER: JONATHAN CAPE LONDON
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: HARD BACK
A Trick I Learned from Dead Men is a library book. I have never heard of Aldridge before. I picked the book up because of the title and the funky cover.
BLURB FROM THE COVER
After the disappearance of their father and the sudden death of their mother, Lee Hart and his deaf brother, Ned, imagine all is lost, until Lee lands a traineeship at their local funeral home and discovers there is life after death. Here, in the company of a crooning ex-publican, a closet pole vaulter, a terminally-ill hearse driver, and the dead of their local town, old wounds begin to heal and love arrives as a beautiful florist aboard a ‘Fleurtations’ delivery van.
But death is closer than Lee Hart thinks. Somewhere among the quiet lanes and sleepy farms something else is waiting. And it is closing in. Don’t bring your work home with you, that’s what they say. Too late…
NEVER SAW IT coming. Not in a million. You don’t. The story fattened up in the retelling. They do. A shame, they said. A pity. It started with her, of course, that was the beginning. Then him that didn’t deserve it. Then it was the youngest. Or was it the eldest? Or both? None of us could explain it, not even me. I should know. I am the eldest. Or was. I have forgotten. That is to say I remember but I don’t look back. That us to say I look but I don’t dwell.
I like the way Aldridge structures A Trick I Learned from Dead Men. Each chapter of varying length has a sub title that is a description of the weather (i.e. some clear spells in the east, clouding over later in the evening) that become more obviously linked to the lives of the characters and events in the novel as you progress. I like this but I’m not sure why. I thought it was a nice touch.
I really enjoyed some moments in A Trick I Learned from Dead Men. I like the flirtation between Lee the main character and Lorelle, the girl from ‘Fleurtations’. Lee clearly has designs on her and his texts become more flirtatious. Lorelle sends him mixed messages until they finally go on a date. I thought this was a nice touch. I found it heart-breaking towards the end of the novel when Lee’s deaf and mentally-challenged brother hangs himself. It came as a shock. I liked the sort of sad humour Aldridge creates in the funeral home where Lee trains.
The best bit in A Trick I Learned from Dead Men is when Lee recalls the end of his mother’s life from cancer. She seizes on alternative therapy and believes positive thinking and apricot stones with save her. This was incredibly sad and realistic. I have no doubt there are people who, when faced with death would be willing to do anything to cling to life.
I loved the relationship between Lee and his deaf, mentally challenged brother Ned. This is very emotional and powerful. Aldridge explores this relationship through rendered sign arguments which are actually very funny. This is also show through Lee’s reaction to his brother’s suicide. I found this scene very painful.
Lee is made redundant when the funeral home he is training in is bought over by a big conglomerate when the owner dies. I’ve been made redundant more than once and could really relate to Lee at this point.
Aldridge uses a sort of stream-of-conscious style in A Trick I Learned from Dead Men. I’m not a fan of this form of narration. It was more bearable in this short novel but I will never really enjoy this style. At some points the narrative flowed very well and enjoyed what I was reading. At other points it seemed a little over the place and I found the whole thing hard to follow. This frustrated me.
I’m fairly certain there was more than one first person narrator but this is not clear because of the rambling narrative so I felt frustrated by this as well. I like to follow what’s going on. I don’t mind if a writer leads me in twenty different directions and down the garden path and numerous dead ends – as long as I know what’s going. I have no issue with multiple narrators in third or first person. Lee is the main character and nearly all of the chapters are narrated by him. There were moments when I’m sure the narrator was different but Aldridge never gives enough clues to make me certain of this. The voice seemed to change and I’m sure I was in another character’s head. The lack of clarity bothered me and pulled me out of the story. I was left scratching my head too many times with A Trick I Learned from Dead Men.
I really enjoyed A Trick I Learned from Dead Men. I liked the way Aldridge looked at death in this short novel. Death is often a taboo subject in novels or overly tragic. I liked the fact Aldridge tackles the sad humour of death and grief. If it wasn’t for the disjointed narrative and confusing narrators I would have loved this novel. If A Trick I Learned from Dead Men had followed a more traditional structure and the narrative voice had been clear throughout this would have been a great novel. It just doesn’t quite hit the spot.