Monday, June 13, 2011

Dead Funny: A Review of Death: A Life by George Pendle

Oh my gods! It's a review! That's right, kids, Gabe's back in business. :D

Title: Death: A Life
Author: Death (and George Pendle)
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (2008)
Pages: 272 pages
How I Came By This Book: This was recommended to me by Jo from Fluidity of Time as part of the massive list of suggestions I got from followers last month. It was acquired through my library's Interlibrary Loan service because I couldn't find this book anywhere nearby.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: At last, the mysterious, feared, and misunderstood being known only as "Death" talks frankly and unforgettably about his infinitely awful existence. Chronicling his abusive childhood, his near-fatal addiction to Life, his excruciating time in rehab, and the ultimate triumph of his true nature, this long-awaited autobiography finally reveals the inner story of one of the most troubling, and troubled, figures in history. For the first time, Death reveals his affairs with the living, his maltreatment at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the ungodly truth behind the infamous "Jesus Incident," and the loneliness of being the End of All Things.

Intense, unpredictable, and instantly engaging, Death: A Life is not only a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a universe that, despite its profound flaws, gave Death the fiery determination to carve out a successful existence on his own terms.

George Pendle
(Funnily enough, for some reason I
pictured him as being much older
and with white hair. Not sure why.)

Review: When this book finally came in through ILL I immediately flipped through it because I was curious as to how the book would look. When I imagined an autobiography of Death, I didn't picture photos with cheeky captions, by that's exactly what I found. Death: A Life is a funny, irreverent novel that begins before the creation of all things and carries the reader down through history from the perspective of the man in black, Death.

Jo, who recommended this to me, said that she didn't "know if [she] would recommend it for a reader who considers themselves to be religiously devout" because "they might consider it to be blasphemous." While I don't have an overly-religious bone in my body and am, therefore, unfazed by blasphemy, I will say that I agree with her that people who are very religious might find it to be offensive.

Death is the son of Satan and Sin and spent most of his childhood living in Hell until his father decided to move the family to the newly-created Earth in order to cause some mayhem. Satan amuses himself by switching all of the name tags that God has carefully put on his new creations while Death struggles to find a place for himself in the grand scheme of things. When a unicorn is killed by the Tree of Mishap (not to be confused with the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Sarcasm, the Tree of Dismemberment, or, really any other of the numerous "Trees of" that were placed in the Garden of Eden), Death finds his calling in taking the souls of dead things.

What follows is the story of his being the End of All Things from the Garden of Eden to the present day. Throughout the novel, Death takes us deep inside his thoughts on life, death, religion, humanity, animals, the world, pretty much anything that interests him...and everything interests him. We see historical events through his eyes, most of them wildly re-imagined, and are treated to a very different perspective of God, Jesus, the angels, Satan, ancient civilization, the list goes on. The book will more than likely piss off religious people, but, for those of us who have no real tie to religion, it's a very funny read.

The humor, however, strays incredibly often into the realm of puns, which I'm not really a huge fan of. A lot of this book is truly funny but other parts of it are only funny if you really enjoy corny plays on words. After a while, Deaths puns got to be more annoying than funny and really dragged the book down a peg. I've read other novels featuring the personification of Death that had a more sarcastic or dry approach and I find that I personally prefer this side of Death's sense of humor.

Image by blackpoint.

Yet, behind all of the puns and the unfavorable portrayal of everything from religion to unicorns, Death: A Life really has a deeper meaning, as most books about Death do--what does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be human? Is life a good thing or a bad thing? Our dear narrator, Death, becomes addicted to Life, to the point where he's thrown into rehab, all stemming from his falling in love with a woman named Maud, who is constantly reincarnated due to a clerical error. I won't say that their relationship is "poignant," partly because the word is overused and partly because it really wasn't, but it was an interesting way to explore the idea of love and of its affect on the human spirit.

While this book wasn't a great philosophical treatise or anything, as a satire, it turns the world on its head and looks at it through the lens of the ridiculous. Death: A Life isn't the greatest satire I've ever read, but it was a fun, easy read that I enjoyed for the sheer insanity of it. I loved Death's story of Methuselah and how his date of death had never been set down so he was constantly trying to get Death to take him. He would try to get himself killed but it never happened and so he walked through life begging Death to make an exception for him. I was also a fan of his time in rehab, which was sadly funny.

One thing that I didn't like was his portrayal of the angel Gabriel...for obvious reasons. A sycophantic meddler who tends to mess things up, this version of Gabriel is my least favorite out of all of his incarnations in film and literature. It was kind of like how I loved Neil Gaiman's American Gods but disliked his portrayal of the Egyptian god, Horus, as a freaky madman (Horus has always been my favorite god from Egyptian mythology). While others may hate the way Pendle portrays God or might be offended by the way his version of Jesus acts, I'm taking the selfish route and saying that anyone who shares my name should be too awesome for words and this time Gabriel just didn't meet that requirement.

The Eye of Horus

So, the short version of this review is: really enjoyed it but I thought the use of puns was excessive. Don't read it if you're easily offended by people making light of your religion.

I'm giving Death: A Life four out of five Gabriels.


  1. Sounds like a great read. Think I will add it to my tr list.

  2. This looks amazing. Just the title shows its amazing-ness. Great review ^__^

  3. This books sounds right up your ally. Great review.

  4. Karen: Hope you enjoy it!

    Nina: That's what caught my eye, too. I had asked for recommendations on books with Death as a character and I decided to go with this one first because it sounded really good.

    Nonners: Thanks! Except for all the puns, I really liked it.

  5. Hi! I'm glad you found it an interesting read. :) I read it when it first came out and thought parts of it were very funny. I wound up recommending it to a co-worker, but I'm careful about who I tell about it (and if I do, I make the disclaimer I made to you). Interesting that your library had to ILL it for you -- our one copy was stolen, so we wound up replacing it.

    I'm glad you tried this one -- it was nice to read your thoughts on it. :)

  6. Thanks! And thanks for the recommendation. I'm glad that most of my friends in real life aren't easily offended because I could probably recommend it to them. The only thing I really, really disliked were the puns. There were way too many of them.