The Very Last List of Vivian Walker by Megan Albany

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

Death and hilarity are two nouns that do not normally appear in the same sentence.  Well … unless discussing Megan Albany’s debut novel, The Very Last List of Vivian Walker.  Megan has delivered a comedy of the mundane. The stuff of daily life piles up relentlessly, even in the face of death, and the best defence is a sense of humour.

It is apparent from the first page of the Prologue that Vivian Walker is dying.  But as the mother of a small boy, Ethan, and wife to the most lackadaisical of all husbands, Clint, there is so much to do.  A list is needed.  Vivian has always been big on lists.  (There will be much nodding in agreement by readers who love a list and the ecstasy of crossing off the most commonplace of accomplishments.)  Vivian’s to-do list consists of twelve routine things to accomplish, from the obvious ‘amend my will’ to ‘sand the French Doors into the bedroom’.  And, as an indication of a domestic life not entirely under control, ‘clean the fridge’ and ‘declutter the playroom’, are the first two things to do, the last being, of course, ‘give husband a list’.  Clint has decided to write his own list.  He has three items!  None of which entails getting anything done bar having sex, going for long country walks and ‘lie in each other’s arms’.  But, in a mad marital kamikaze moment, he has dared to write a list for Vivian.   He must be emboldened by the fact I am dying. He thinks I am too weak to kill him.  Clint’s list for Vivian: finish your novel, play with your son, take a hot bath, and recuperate. Vivian’s response: I’m too busy with my everyday list.  His utopian version will have to wait.  Ethan makes his own list: play handball with Mum, build a robot, and have a sleepover.  To which Vivian optimistically adds: tidy his room and cook us all dinner.  So having placed the reader firmly in context, each chapter, written in the first person, works through everyone’s list, with a few ‘not on my list: …’ added in.

Readers will notice that spiritual enlightenment, or any after-death mystical stuff, is not featured on The List, which readers will come to realize is just not Vivian’s style.  However, Vivian’s dear friend Sally is well equipped to take charge of the mystical, as she is the kindest and sweetest person on the planet.  Sally is going to heaven …thanks to climbing her way up the enlightenment ladder one pyramid scheme at a time.  Sally always has a product that will achieve one miracle or another.

This is a narrative that flows forward like a journal marked not in days but by Vivian’s declining health, the ‘to do list’, and the antics of wonderful characters like mystical Sally, Marsha, and Aunty Sugar.  Megan is a master of seamlessly providing personal histories for all her characters.  But this does not alter the pace of the narrative; information is taken in as if by osmosis, before long readers feel a personal connection.  And the humour is unrelenting.  I was too busy laughing to feel sad, although, when Ethan read a speech about his mum the print on the page wobbled a bit.  And then there was Vivian’s letter to Ethan, and more wobbly print. Megan has written a novel that is funny, real, and never glib; it is clear she loves all her characters.

Somehow Megan Albany has softened death; it is after all the stuff of life, and life just has to be managed.  The best defence is an active sense of humour.

Highly Recommended.

The Very Last List of Vivian Walker

by Megan Albany

(2022)

Hachette Australia

Paperback

ISBN: 9780733646959

$32.99; 300pp

eBook

ISBN: 9780733646966

$12.99

Audiobook

ISBN: 9780733648908

$34.99

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