Book: Love and Other Near-Death Experiences by Mil Millington

Very funny

Mil Millington
Love and Other Near-Death Experiences: A Novel
Villard, 2006
ISBN: 0-8129-7348-8
349 pages

I liked Mil Millington's first book, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, very much. It's extraordinarily funny. I liked his second book, A Certain Chemistry, rather less. Still, I had petty high hopes for his third book, Love and Other Near-Death Experiences, and they were pretty much fulfilled.

The book is about Rob Garland, the host of a late-night jazz show on a radio station in Birmingham, England. A couple of months before the book starts, he was to interview a local musician for the show. But he was a bit late and when he got to the jazz club where the interview was to take place, he found that it had just been destroyed by an out-of-control tanker truck and everyone inside killed. Rob was late because his girlfriend had insisted that he return some towels. He had bought the towels in the first place because he happened into a shop and thought they were a good deal. He was in the shop because.... And that's the source of a problem that Rob now has. Since any trivial decision can lead to disaster or save him from one, he's now routinely paralyzed with indecision when faced with trivial choices. To have a cup of coffee? Or tea? Or nothing to drink?

That's not a really great situation to be in, especially since Rob is engaged to be married. And to make matters worse, he breaks down on the air. Shortly after that, he meets a American named Zach who's ex-military and says he's on a mission from god. They decide to go on a quest to find someone who says that Rob's life is in danger and, somehow, to get Rob sorted out.

The plot is interesting enough, but mostly serves to give the characters something to do. It's the characters that make the book funny and interesting. Zach is an amusing caricature of an American: naive but physically powerful. (Even though Mr Millington writes for the Guardian, I'm pretty sure that Zach is intended to be a caricature.) We later meet a hilariously foul-mouthed woman who's clinically depressed and another woman who's a witch with a conspiracy theory. The results are funnier even than you'd expect from that and Mr Millington's narration is almost Wodehousian at its best. Take, for example:

    I lifted my shoulders and stuck out my lower lip.
    As it was almost pitch black in her room, I
    guessed that a few of the many irrefutable
    levels of this considered counter-argument
    might have gone over her head. (p. 285)

Love and Other Near-Death Experiences is in the small list of books that I've had to put down because I was laughing too hard to continue to read.

I did find it slightly odd that the depressed character wanted to talk about her depression at length. I'm no psychologist, but my experience of people who suffer from depression is that they are not chatty. Also, the ending is a bit talky, as though Mr Millington wanted to make quite sure that every reader took the right lesson from it. But those are minor flaws.

Mr Millington's ear for American dialect isn't quite perfect. He has Zach say "trodden on" where an American would say "stepped on" (p. 81), "false turn" for "wrong turn" (p. 81), "for a time" for "for a minute" (p 220), "fire service" for "fire department" (p. 302), and "starters" for "appetizers" (p. 342). There's also a tiny editing error in that there's "ring" where "wring" is wanted (p. 185).

American readers may be saved a trip or two to Google by knowing that "Aga" is a brand of fancy stove and that "moreish" refers to food so good that you want to have more of it.

Posted: Thu - April 13, 2006 at 07:45   Main   Category: