Friday, April 24, 2009

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide

In The Household Guide to Dying, Delia, an author, writes a column and the "Household Guide" books offering readers a variety of tips and advice. When her cancer returns and she learns that she's dying, besides readying her husband and children for her impending absence, she has a brilliant idea to write "The Household Guide to Dying" to give readers advice on how to die. As she's writing the book, she knows that she has to tie up some loose ends from her past and to put her own house in order before the day comes.

This is a beautifully written book that's tender and heartbreaking one moment and very comical the next. While the title suggests a novel about dying, and indeed Delia is dying, the book is really about Delia's life and how she nears the end. There are flashbacks to her young adult life where the reader learns more about Delia's past and her need to go back to heal old wounds. It gets a little confusing at times as to whether Delia has returned in the present day or whether it's a flashback, but it all sorts itself in the end.

The funniest parts were the letters from Delia's advice column readers. Her responses were laugh-out-loud funny and more than a little bit snarky. I probably could have read a full book of these. The saddest part was definitely the end. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that.

I loved Delia. There was no "woe is me" from her. She just keeps going; wrapping up loose ends, writing when she could and readying her family. From buying a coffin (um, I mean casket) to planning a funeral, Delia researches "how to die" for her book and for herself. While she's doing her research and writing, she takes the time to guide her family through a very difficult period. Delia's grace and style are something to be envied. I was surprised a few times by the reactions from her husband, Archie, and her two daughters. I don't know if I could have handled the situation as well as they did.

Delia also had a fascination with chickens. She named them, feed them, collected their eggs and petted them. They really seemed to have a calming effect on her. I'm sure there's some great symbolism that others can draw from this fascination. I'll leave that to them.

I think this book would make a great book for book clubs.

I've seen a few different covers for this book. My favourite is the simple one shown here:

Awards: Orange Prize for Fiction: Longlist 2009

Highly recommended. I'd definitely read another book by Debra Adelaide.

For more information about the book, visit Pan Macmillan Australia or Penguin Canada.


  1. This one sounds good...thanks for the review! I'm adding it to my wish list. :)

  2. I really didn't know what it was going to be like when I started reading it. It turned out to be really good. I hope you enjoy it, too.

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  4. This one is going on my must read list. Your review made it sound so good. Such a sad subject and yet you were laughing in parts. And I agree I like the second simple cove better.


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