Way To Go by Alan Spence

 Way To Go cover

The novel starts arrestingly with the narrator, Neil McGraw, sitting up in a coffin, reading a comic and eating a sherbet straw. Neil is the son of an undertaker whose business motto is Rest Assured. Neil’s mother died in childbirth, the child in question being him. Despite his profession, Neil’s father has never come to terms with his loss. His favoured punishment is to lock Neil away for the night with the (empty) coffins. The novel is from the outset, then, dealing with the Big One, death – one of the great triumvirate of novelistic concerns. As the first sentence indicates it does so in a strikingly non po-faced way. Funeral urn contents are referred to as cremains, an embalmer come from Kirkcaldy to demonstrate this up and coming method of dealing with the recently deceased is dubbed by Neil the “Wraith Rover” and the book probably contains all the jokes you have ever heard about death, and a few more besides.

Despite him asking nearly everyone he meets the question, “What happens when you die?” Neil is not enamoured of the prospect of taking over the business and scarpers to London at the first opportunity. One of the bohemian types he falls in with dies unexpectedly and in a sequence emblematic of Spence’s approach is sent through the crematorium curtains to the sound of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s Fire!.

Unable to settle Neil makes a peregrination around the world taking in the Day of the Dead in Mexico City, an IRA funeral in Dublin, a cremation in Bali, phases out at the funeral pyres in Varanasi, the city where he meets Lila, the woman who will become his wife.
His life undergoes a U-turn when his father dies and he returns home to organise the funeral. While there a widow comes in and asks him to bury her husband. Neil is reluctant but is persuaded and steps into his father’s footsteps offering a bespoke service of unusual colourful funerals under the motto “Way to Go”.

Spence’s Scottish credentials are apparent from the off with words such as wersh and winching peppering the text, but he feels the need to define smirr – somewhat erroneously – as a fine drizzle (it’s thinner than that) and spells the word as “hotching,” which I have seen but I am more familiar with “hoatching”.

I suspect I shall remember Way To Go for a long time.

Pedant’s corner:- a “shrunk”, “had poured half he wine,” stedfast, AIDS uncapitalised.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script