So what’s a young woman like Rosie Potter supposed to do?
One morning she wakes up in her favourite blue flannel pajamas, feeling a little worse for wear – most likely from one of her big nights out in village of Ballycarragh that she calls home – her bedroom trashed, her housemate unresponsive … and ah, dead, yes quite, life-endingly dead.
And worse still, with no memory of how it happened.
Discovering quickly that she is in fact a ghost, one with rather impressive superhuman abilities to speed along through the hills and dales, and a penchant for haunting when necessary, Rosie tries to discern why it is she’s still on this temporal plane.
After all, shouldn’t she walking into a white light or holding hands with an angel or something? Isn’t that how the afterlife is supposed to play out?
Instead she finds herself hanging around the home she shared with her BFF Jenny, watching her rogue of a boyfriend Jack, her beloved parents, her brother Chris and close childhood friend Charles all grieve the loss of their lovely Rosie in their own ways.
It’s beyond weird and unusual and Rosie struggles to understand why she has front row to such this theatre of the macabre and who it was that put her here in the first place?
Part rom-com, part-whodunnit and all charm, good humour and some wicked perspectives on life, love, and the decisions we make, The Happy Ever Afterlife of Rosie Potter (RIP) by Kate Winter is the kind of book you could speed through if you weren’t stopping to chuckle over a particularly witty oneliner or pausing to think over a melancholy observation or two.
On the surface it’s light, bright, fun stuff – surprisingly for a book about someone waking up dead, thanks to Rosie’s irrepressibly cheery gung-ho approach to life (and after the initial shock wears off, death) the book is rather insanely upbeat for the most part – it also manages to ask some big questions about why we make the decisions we do about life.
In the middle of actually living life, we don’t often stop to ponder why it is we’re doing something; life keeps barrelling on and we hang on grimly for dear life.
But as Rosie discovers, all the chickens of bad decisions, and goods ones too it must be said, come home to boost when something as inconvenient as death gets in the way.
And even in the afterlife, there’s some accounting to be done, as well as a possible murderer to be found, a man to fall in love with – yep that happens and it’s every bit as idiosyncratically delightful as you might expect – and loose ties to be tied up so those left living can do it properly, long after Rosie has left them all behind.
What makes The Happy Ever After Life … such a fun read, quite apart from its wholly imaginative, well-used premise, is the way Kate Winter manages to give us both humour and introspection in equal measure.
Far from being a maudlin mope through death, the book gleefully recounts how Rosie, once she’s accustomed to the idea of having shuffled off this mortal coil, sets about looking after her friends and family, seeking justice, and righting wrongs where they may be righted, with the same gusto and joie de vivre she brought to life.
At times, it’s some much fun, so brilliantly upbeat and hilarious that you almost forget Rosie is dead; she’s a very funny young lady, quick with a witty retort, self-deprecating, and willing to take on everyone and everything.
But then you are with her when she witnesses her family processing their grief over her loss, or sees her friend Jenny mired in grief and the overwhelming self-recrimination that comes with it (the source of which Rosie only finds out in death) and you are brought back to reality with a thud.
Rosie is DEAD and she’ll never get to snog the man she truly loves – who post her death finally admits he loves her with all his heart – find out what she could have done with her life, have one more family meal with her New Age mother and calmly-accepting mother, never work another shift in the boisterous surrounds of McMorrows pub and never, ever spend another girls’ night in with Jenny with too much wine, gossip and of course the flannel pajamas.
It’s a hard line to walk but Winter walks it and walks it well.
Granted the book will likely never be up for the Man Booker prize but then I suspect that was never the intent; rather it’s a joyously thoughtful rumination on life with some happy ever after fantasy elements thrown in that is wholly pleasing, very funny and ties up neat as a bow, justice served (such as it needs to be) and life and death continuing on as they should.
You don’t exactly wish to be dead to see if the afterlife plays out just like Winter’s take on it, but when the time comes, and pray it is further off than Rosie’s far too early demise, you can only hope death is as much fun and as satisfying as this remarkably talented Irish author makes it out to be.