From Publishers Weekly
Chalmers's debut novel explores that territory to which Nick Hornby has so expertly laid claim: the feckless man who has reached the fateful dividing point between the slacker lifestyle of the 20s and the bourgeois comforts that beckon in the 30s. Londoner Daniel Linnell is on the verge of losing his job with Resolve, a counseling center where he mans the pay-per-minute therapy hot lines. Into his life comes Laura Jardine, an expatriate American who manages a hipster pub. Laura defines herself by her hobbies: taking pictures of dogs and parachuting, the latter a little too obviously portentous of disaster to come. After Daniel receives the boot from the institute, he eventually finds his true niche as an incredibly well-remunerated obituarist for a London paper (in a country where obituaries are a sort of literary extreme sport). Essentially, Daniel's job is to compose farewells that hint at the vices and inadequacies of the dearly departed. Inspired by his job, Daniel begins work on an obituary almanac of the more notorious inhabitants of hell. Meanwhile, he and Laura surmount, with some mutual angst, Lauras penchant for infidelity, visit Laura's boorish Kansas family and produce a child. Chalmers can be witty, but he lacks Hornby's light touch; there is too much exegesis per joke and scenes run on longer than they need to. Still, there are some inspired moments, and he tackles family tragedy with more assurance than he handles comedy, the book's dark denouement offers a strong finish.
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This first novel by a young British writer is sure to invite comparisons with Nick Hornby's work. Because the novel is so layered with idiosyncratic anecdotes--the lead character is an obituary writer, his girlfriend is a skydiver--it is not as accessible as Hornby's best-sellers. What Chalmers does share with the author of High Fidelity
(1995), however, is the ability to tell a hip, passionate love story without a shred of sentimentality. When Londoner Daniel Linnell meets American barkeep Laura Jardine, she goes "off in his life like a bomb." Daniel is initially intimidated by the fact that she has slept with so many men and, although they are at once inseparable, he is haunted by the fear that she will be unfaithful. He falls into a cushy, high-paying job as an obituarist working for a brilliant, deeply eccentric editor; he visits Laura's welcoming, unpretentious hometown in Kansas; and he and Laura eventually have a child. Witty, very well written (the obituaries themselves are gems), and delightfully unpredictable, this is an impressive debut by a writer to watch. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved