Monday, 28 September 2015

Down Among the Dead Men by Michelle Williams

Down Among the Dead Men: 
A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician
by Michelle Williams

Summary: Michelle Williams, an attractive young woman with close family ties and an active social life, describes her first extraordinary year in her unusual new job as a mortuary technician. It's a year in which, with innate good humour, she encounters death at its most tragic, bizarre and hilarious. Her tale, neither gruesome nor sad, is enlivened by a range of colourful and eccentric characters, from pathologists and coroners to hospital porters and undertakers, giving us a glimpse of life ? and death ? that few of us will ever experience.
This is not the type of book I'd normally read -- partly because it's a memoir which aren't usually my kind of thing and partly because it's about a mortuary technician (not exactly the type of thing I like to think about). But, alas, morbid curiosity got the better of me...and I ended up enjoying the book way more than I expected to.

As far as the subject matter goes, I wouldn't recommend reading the book if you're particularly squeamish about graphic descriptions... I mean, I know way more about corpses and mortuaries and eviscerations and post-mortems now than I ever really wanted or needed to know. But it was sort of fascinating, if you have the stomach for it -- which, surprisingly, I do.

The book wasn't perfect though -- I really did not like the chapters about her personal life. On one hand, I can appreciate what they were maybe added for, because they did add this sense of normalcy to her life. She is doing this odd job that people tend to think of as weird, and that the people doing that job must be kind of weird, so showing her personal life makes you see that she really is just a regular person and provides this balance to her story... The problem was that her home life was boring and the writing in those chapters felt really mediocre at best.

So yeah, I can appreciate why those chapters were included, but they were mind numbingly dull and none of the "characters" (I know, they're not fictional, but still) seemed fully developed so it made it very difficult to care at all about any of them. Her co-workers in the mortuary had way more spark to them.

Aside from that though, I did really enjoy the book and I loved the mortuary aspect of it. It was really interesting reading all about what working in a mortuary entails -- from the gory details of it to the interactions with the police and undertakers and family members of the deceased, and especially the stories about specific cases she's dealt with.

Basically, it was just a really interesting book. The biggest negative is that her home life was incredibly boring (especially in comparison to the stuff going on in the mortuary) and it dragged the book--and my rating--down a bit.

I'd rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5.


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