The Beginner’s Guide to Living
Text, $19.95 pb, 248 pp
A decade ago, when the number of dead mums in young adult fiction had reached epidemic proportions, I drew attention to the phenomenon via the pages of Viewpoint (Vol. 6, No.1), and called for a halt to, or at least a diminution in, the rate of literary matricide. I suggested that authors might find another way of generating sympathy for their young protagonists or, if they were determined to explore grief and loss, kill off other members of the family and give mums a break. For a while, the body count declined, but my recent reading suggests that the number of bereaved protagonists is on the rise again.
The Beginner’s Guide to Living is Lia Hills’s first novel. If she read my plea, she ignored it: the novel begins with the narrator, seventeen-year-old Will, looking with an unsentimental eye at his mother’s body as it lies in an open coffin. In the weeks following her death, Will seeks answers to some big questions about life and death. Getting none from either his taciturn dad or his prickly older brother, he turns to philosophy, but he derives little consolation from the likes of Socrates, Plato, Seneca, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein.