The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (Shane's book 6, 2008)

At some point, I really should try to read a book in which nobody dies. Death has featured prominently in the books I've read this year and in this one everybody dies. It's not all that bad, though, because the dead go to a city where they carry on much as before, renting apartments, going for lunch and setting themselves up in business. The residents of this city stay indefinitely, often for years, before disappearing without warning. This disappearance, they believe, coincides with the death of the last person who remembers them.

When the city suddenly empties out, the few remaining residents suspect a catastrophe in the land of the living. They may be right but our only contact with this world is through Laura, who is stranded on her own in Antarctica.

Brockmeier alternates between Laura's efforts to contact civilisation after the disappearance of the other two members of her expedition and the stories of the residents of the city of the dead. Gradually, he begins to draw the narratives together until they meet at the end, however the connection between the two has long been obvious by that point.

It's obvious that this book began life as a short story. (The opening chapter was originally published in the New Yorker.) The strongest ideas are all at the beginning and the rest of the chapters in the city of the dead are little more than pen portraits. Though well drawn, these portraits don't do much to advance the plot.

Meanwhile Laura's story feels a little thin. Brockmeier describes her plight well, indeed, he describes everything in the book well, but it's hard to be too concerned for her when we know that death is actually quite pleasant.

And 'quite pleasant' is a good description of the book itself. It won't bore you but it won't challenge you either. Never has a book with such a high bodycount been so placid.