29 December 2012

Review: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Published: 14 February 2006 by Pantheon

Pages: 252 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic

Source: Owned

Check it Out: Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Amazon UK ~ The Book Depository


From Kevin Brockmeier, one of this generation's most inventive young writers, comes a striking new novel about death, life, and the mysterious place in between. The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two storylines to create a lyrical and haunting story about love, loss and the power of memory.

My Thoughts

Set sometime in the not too distant future, The Brief History of the Dead is a mixture of post-apocalyptic and fantasy, with alternating chapters between The City and the real world.  Normally I'm not a huge fan of this structure, but here I thought it worked quite well.  I loved the idea and the execution of The City's parts, and I actually liked Laura more the more time I spent in her part of the story.

The City itself is intriguing.  The people that exist there only exist while someone still living remembers them, but they live like people in the real world - they eat and sleep, work and go to school but never age, staying the same as they were when they died.   The tie-ins that they have to the living world gradually shrink as time passes and less people remember them, until ultimately they disappear.   The only thing I questioned was the distinct lack of famous people - celebrities, movie stars, singers - as the people that Laura remembers range from her parents and ex-boyfriend, right down to her childhood friends and people that she saw on a regular basis, such a shop clerks that she only knew by sight, so would that not have applied to actors she had seen in movies?

I didn't think I would actually enjoy Laura's POV as much, but I was surprised to find that I was continually looking forward to her part of the story - surviving in the Antarctic alone, with no real clue of what has happened to the rest of the human race as her supplies disappear and she attempts to make it to the nearest big station, I felt an overwhelming sympathy for her and the situation she was in.

There are hints of what has happened to the outside world, told thought news headlines and connected to what was going on in the world before Laura left for the research station, and although its pretty obvious what happened, its therefore never disclosed quite how or why it happened.

Stylistically, this is a haunting, lyrical story, particularly towards the end and it really made me think about my own memories of people and how they tie them to me, although they are no longer in this world.   Overall, despite a few questions about the world-building and plot, I liked The Brief History of the Dead, and I will definitely be checking out more of Kevin Brockmeier's work.


  1. Sounds interesting, adding to my reading list.

  2. Great review Kat, this one is going on my tbr list for 2013. I've been eyeing it at the library every time I go some I'm glad it's a good read :)
    -Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

  3. I don't believe I've seen this one before, but it definitely looks interesting.



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