Plot: Fenwicke’s slice-of-life novel takes readers through Maggie’s colorful life. However, its meandering tone and many threads obscure its general trajectory.
Prose/Style: The prose is effervescent, the tone conversational and engaging.
Originality: The charting of one woman’s life is familiar, although Maggie’s interactions with her adult children are genuine and heartfelt.
Character Development/Execution: Perhaps what makes Fenwicke’s story difficult to follow is her inclusion of many point-of-view characters. Although they are all full characters, readers may struggle to keep track of them.
Date Submitted: June 28, 2021
Set in Queenstown, New Zealand, Death Actually tells the story of Maggie, woman who has had to be both a mother and father to her two children, Kate and Nick, when her husband abandoned them.
The sudden death of both her parents leads to her returning home to New Zealand from Australia with her young children, to take over the family business of funeral direction when her brother took off overseas following his parents’ accident. With the support of her best friend Elka and her mentor Betty, Maggie has had to accept her role and has since become very much part of the Queenstown community.
The reader is taken into the lives of the people who are important to Maggie with the author’s clever characterisation of Lizzie, Elka and Betty making the writing realistic, and I really felt part of the Queenstown lifestyle. Nick and Kate lend a hand and support their mother and her friends, but there are some secrets in the background, which add complications and the new doctor in town is at times an irritation to Maggie.
Set in winter when the ski season is at its height in Queenstown, there is death (actually) in the book and I found the role and tasks undertaken by the funeral director was extensive and at times challenging, but the author has written these with sensitivity and grace.
And of course, a modern day story set in the resort would not be complete without a jet boat accident, a movie on location nearby and the dramas which accompany these activities.
The author has gently moulded the strands of the story together with humour and it moves along at a brisk pace with some very satisfactory outcomes from the twists and turns she created among the characters.
Like any good book there is sorrow as well as celebration, but friendship and love is an important thread entwined throughout the pages and anyone who likes an inspiring family drama of modern living will find this a good read and like me, they will find the vivid descriptions around Queenstown to be captivating. The underlining theme highlights strength, reliance and hope while looking to the future, ‘Alexander Benjamin Potter was born normally, at nine twenty-one on a dark and stormy night in early spring, in the back of his grandmother’s hearse, in a paddock in central Otago. He weighed 7 lbs 13ozs, and was full of fight and noise, much to everyone’s relief and joy.’
Rosy Fenwick is a doctor, writer and mother of three adult children living in Martinborough. In 2017 she released her first novel, Hot Flush, which received excellent reviews, and which I would be keen to read to see if I enjoyed it as much as Death Actually.
Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh