Title: The Life of Death
Writer: Lucy Booth
Publishing House: Unbound
Date of Publication: May 2nd 2019
Rating: 5 stars
”I am there when you are born. When you cross the road. When the live wire frays in a Bakelite plug. I am there in the hospital canteen, by the frozen pond, in the carbon monoxide fug of a terraced living room. I am waiting, with open arms and solace. I am Death.”
Scotland, 1567. People have gathered in the market square to watch the witches burn. Young Elizabeth is waiting for her turn, chained in the dungeon when a strange visitor arrives with promises of a painless death and a rebirth in the form of a rather formidable figure. Death. Lizzy becomes Little D, passing through the ages, leading souls to their final journey. Until her heart starts beating and she strikes a deal with the Devil. But how can anyone win in the macabre chess game with humans as pawns?
‘’I have lived the lives of more souls than I can count.’’
The Devil and Death, the two ‘’Ds’’ that fascinate and terrify us all (and the ones who claim otherwise are idiots and liars….) become one. Lizzy becomes the guardian of the final journey, a presence to be feared, an entity that brings peace through agony. But the Devil needs souls that are unstained, innocent. Parents, youths. Children. Five people are needed. Five deaths in order for Lizzy to be free to live and love. Does one mad whim, a passing fancy, justify five deaths? Mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons? Surely not. Booth brilliantly depicts the selfishness that is deeply rooted in our souls. Immortal or not.
Booth creates a story the like of which I’ve never seen before. With elements that may remind us of The Master & Margarita and Melmoth, we are invited to the dark journey of a soul that wants to live. Following an astonishing Introduction, Booth takes us to the witch trials. I have read a plethora of pyre scenes. Few were as harrowing as the ones included in this novel. She presents an interesting version of how the Devil chooses certain people to do his bidding.
‘’Fade to black.’’
Lizzy is a sympathetic, complex character. Her ordeal will move your heart but for me, the magnetism of the novel lies in the character of the Devil. He is a fascinating figure. I don’t know what words to use to avoid sounding weirder than usual but he is the perfect, alluring villain and extremely realistic. I could readily believe that this was the Devil speaking and this is what makes the novel truly unique. There is a striking scene where the Devil is standing at the foot of a stone cross in the centre of the town. If you read the novel, this image will not leave you anytime soon. There is also a haunting description of D-Day and the moments before each death are terrifying and deeply moving.
The language is quite lyrical, almost theatrical to the point where it seems exaggerated. However, it is definitely appropriate given the premise. The narration is embellished with elegant humor and accurate observations throughout. I dare say the Devil definitely knows what he’s talking about. People are full of stupid decisions, really. What mother would let a seven-year-old girl alone, wandering in the shops? I mean, are you serious? You should be charged and put to trial and the child should be taken from you immediately! This is the definition of a bad mother. Booth demonstrates that our foolishness has dire consequences.
Be warned, though. It goes without saying that certain parts of the novel require a strong stomach. With such themes, it couldn’t have been otherwise. The last 30 pages are excruciating. I can’t find the proper adjectives to describe them.
I grieve for Lucy Booth. The Dark Visitor took away a young woman and a brilliant writer that could have given us treasures. Death stroke an awful deal…
‘’When you’re alive, when all this has finished, the only certainty in your life will be death.’’
Many thanks to Unbound Digital and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.