The Dead I Know is a gripping, emotional rollercoaster of a book. The story centres around Aaron Rowe, who has left school to train as a funeral director with John Barton, owner and operator of JKB Funerals. Aaron lives with his Mam in a caravan. Mam is not mentally sound and it makes Aaron’s life very difficult, especially because he loves her so much. Their relationship is a complicated one and, without slipping in a spoiler, not what I expected.
Aaron sleepwalks, having nightmares that seem like memories, and often wakes up in strange places. The novel focusses on a period of about a month in Aaron’s life, where the nightmares are becoming real and he is struggling to cope. He slowly builds a relationship with Skye, John’s younger daughter, and the brother/sister relationship they have offers him a safe haven – indeed the whole Barton family accepts him for who he is, without judgement, and they become his rock in a swirling maelstrom.
This is a novel about change, about growing up and about acceptance – both of oneself and by others.
I found the characters in this novel real and believable, which unnerved me a little. I am not accustomed to feeling as attached to a central character as I was to Aaron. His story is utterly compelling. Gardner never wastes words, but paints raw and visceral pictures with his language.
This is an intense reading experience, but well worth the effort because it is ultimately a story of hope.