It is hard to imagine a less appropriate word than "uplifting" for a book that describes itself as "a collection of narrative fragments told by Death herself", but "Even the Birds Grow Silent" by Alex Nye is surprisingly so. Beautifully written, at times crushingly sad, at others prompting the reader to smile, it provides a whistle-stop tour of death - of the rich, of the famous and of ordinary folk whose lives are drawing to a close.
Death feels she gets a very bad press. She didn't ask for the job and she's been in the role, literally, forever. She's seen it all, from the dawn of time, when the first cave paintings were created right up to the present day. Hers is a thankless existence and while she wouldn't have chosen it, she is committed to doing the best job she can.
The opportunity to be interviewed and to give insights into the job is attractive to Death. It's a chance for her to shed light on her role and how she really does try to help people in their final hours. She might be feared, by almost everyone she comes across, but she wants every individual's departure from life to be the best it can be.
So, with a series of cameo appearances, we learn of the death experiences of Leonard Cohen, of Lady Jane Grey, of Vincent van Gogh and of Virginia Woolf to name just a few. We also meet those whose names mean very little to the wider world, but mean everything to their loved ones.
Each chapter is a new person's story and each cameo appearance a time capsule of a life, often well lived, but sometimes not. Death comes over as a pretty good egg. She's compassionate, caring and does her best for everyone she encounters, often checking up on those who are left behind once her charges have departed.
Not being the most obvious, or obviously desirable, subject for a novel, Alex Nye has expertly crafted a book about death that proves compelling reading. As I said in the first paragraph of this review, "Even the Birds Grow Silent" is an uplifting read and the main character, Death, a likeable and accomplished narrator. We’d highly recommended this book; just make sure you can set aside the time to read it in full, because it's hard to put down once started!