Sometimes, sometimes, this is why Amazon’s ‘Books You Might Like’ section is wonderful.
In a small French street is the Suicide Shop, a family-run business dedicated to helping it’s miserable customers end their lives efficiently and with style. They can provide a wide range of poisonous vegetation, or recommend the right kind of rope for your height ceiling. One-bullet shotguns. Cyanide candy. Or if you’re looking for something especially stylish you can always buy the full harakiri kit (kimono, sword). There’s grim patriarch Mishimi, grimacing mother Lucrece, mopey anorexic teenage son Vincent and the grotesque daughter Marilyn.
And then Alan. Alan, the youngest son, who can’t seem to stop laughing. Or dancing. Or playing happy songs. Or (the horror) wishing the customers a good day.
The bulk of the novel is taken up with the Tuvache family’s horrified reaction to Alan’s cheeriness. They do everything they can to guide him to a dignified misery; instruct him on how to address the customers in the appropriately funereal way, they confiscate his records, they even send him off to camp to learn how to effectively wire land mines (he packs his swimming trunks in case it’s sunny.)
I’ve spoken to a couple of people about this book since I start reading it, and after the slightly baffled (and worried) look upon revealing the title, I keep feel the need to babble through a fistful of the jokes from The Suicide Shop. It is, quite definitely, very funny, but not in a hammy sitcom way; imagine the kind of wilfully gothic nature of Tim Burton fused together with… with what? I’m not sure–but the nearest family relation I can place it with is the equally fantastic The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart. Which leads me to the qualifier that, above all, The Suicide Shop is French.
The sheer range of inventiveness of the suicides available from the shop are spectacular. There’s the Alan Turing kit, for example, in which (inspired by his real life actual suicide) customers can buy an apple soaked in cyanide, a small canvas, a paintbrush and paint. Before consuming the apple, our pessimistic patron sits and paints a picture of the apple and bequeaths it to the shop. They have a gallery above the tills. Or the cyanide sweets; the law requires they give children a chance at life, so it’s a lucky dip in the tin, half of the sweets made only of sugar. Or, of course, daughter Marilyn who, upon realising her stunning beauty, is given the Death Kiss as her birthday present, a genetic modification that turns her saliva deadly; customers line up to meet their maker at the touch of her lips.
And of course, the son Alan plays havoc with all of this wonderfully arranged gloom. The plot of the novel is fairly self-evident–the only plot it possibly could have would be the subversion of everything into Alan’s cheerfully kaleidoscope happiness, but it’s inevitability doesn’t diminish the story at all. In fact, the only thing that really jarred with me as a reader was the sudden realisation, about three-quarters through the novel, that this was meant to taking place in a dystopian far future society. The clues were barely there (apart from in the first line of the blurb on the back cover, which squarely informed me…) until suddenly Mishima was in the middle of a 3D news program. I’d pictured the whole thing as a modern-day gothic, so it rather threw me out, and it seemed a little bit unnecessary.
Aside from that, I can only repeat how much I loved this book. It’s short–barely 120 pages–and you’ll fly through it. It’s a fantastic souffle of a book, light and funny, but it’s still a souffle made of strychnine and coal; it’s got bite.
— AND! -- Given that I spent the novel feeling as if I was in a European Tim Burton movie, it’s fitting that is has actually been turned into a film. The trailer is below, and it seems like it perfectly sums up the novel.