Shaking Hands With Elvis

Shaking Hands With Elvis | Paul Carroll
Publication: March 2024

This is a tough one to review. It’s set in a not-too-distant future where assisted dying has been made legal in the UK. The story is about a bunch of people who have opted for euthanasia and checked into a facility where it will happen. Things don’t run smoothly.

It’s tough to review because on the one hand, it’s a well written, pacy and entertaining novel (hence the 2 stars, not 1). But I am a fervent fan of euthanasia and I hated the perception of it that this book supports.

I live in a country where euthanasia is legal. Just last year I attended a farewell party for a woman who had opted for euthanasia. A group of her family and close friends had lunch together (in a room provided in the assisted-living facility she was living in), she talked with each of us in turn, we said our goodbyes, and then she returned to her room, with her [adult] children, where the procedure was then carried out. It was a beautiful event; intense, sad, loving, and uplifting too. She put an end to her intolerable suffering in a way where she was fully in control and making her own choice, freely. Her children, in-laws and grandchildren could properly say goodbye, surrounded and supported by people who love them.

I cannot think of a better way to die.

By contrast, my 90-year-old father died in a country that does not permit euthanasia. He suffered a horrendous, painful death. It took 11 days. We begged the doctors to ‘do something’, because you wouldn’t let an animal suffer like that, never mind your own parent, but they refused and did nothing (and didn’t seem to give much of a damn either). With every morphine dosage reluctantly (it seemed to us) doled out at at too-long intervals, they just retreated behind ‘the rules’.

I cannot think of a worse way to die.

The euthanasia debate is serious — it’s not something to choose easily. But many of its opponents are uninformed, if not actually ignorant, and their arguments filled with scare-mongering. They self-righteously argue about the ‘value’ of life, without consideration of the degradation of living a pain-filled life. It annoys me that this novel falls very much on the wrong side of that debate.

Sure, I am probably taking a novel that was intended as a light-hearted romp way too seriously. Maybe it’s unfair. But I firmly believe, perhaps naively, that books matter and have influence — and this novel feeds into a facile, populist narrative that I thoroughly disagree with. How many more people have to suffer like my father before we start thinking more rationally and humanely?

And before you say ‘lighten up!’, I have to add that writing a funny novel about a topic doesn’t give an author a free pass to spread misinformation. (Or to be more precise, the author is free to put absolutely anything he wants in his book, but reviewers are also free to pass judgement!)

My thanks to Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.

Want to read a different novel about assisted dying? I recommend: Exit by Belinda Bauer

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