Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Emily Austin

Published by Atlantic Books UK/Atria Books US

8 July/6 July 2021

256pp, hardback, £12.99/$26

Reviewed by Amy Wu

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The heroine in Emily Austin’s debut novel isn’t instantly lovable, but her character has the strong potential to grow on readers, in a good way.

Gilda, a 27-year-old lesbian, is a combination of introvert, neurotic, highly anxious and narcissistic. As the novel opens, Gilda is involved in a minor car accident that leaves her with a broken arm, likely from the detonated air bag.

Gilda unfortunately also has a fixation on death. Everyday happenings trigger her musings on the subject. This is Gilda sitting on a bus, observing an elderly man who is standing: “I am nervous that he is going to fall completely. I imagine him losing his footing and propelling across the bus… I think about how old people can die from falling. I start to picture myself attending this man’s funeral.”

The plot involves Gilda responding to an advertisement for therapy at a Catholic church, where, upon arrival, she unintentionally answers ‘yes’ when asked if she’s applying for the receptionist job at the church, which lost its receptionist Grace. Soon, Gilda becomes suspicious about Grace’s death and starts investigating.

Due to her passiveness and disengagement with life, Gilda frequently gets into mishaps and misunderstandings. She barely answers texts from her girlfriend Eleanor. She snacks on crackers at the church and pairs them with cheese, not realizing immediately they are communion wafers: “I googled the cracker brand and learned that I paired marble Cracker Barrel cheese with God’s transubstantiated body.” She spends a lot of time researching murders and deaths as she suspects the pastor, among others, as potential murderer. She inadvertently gets into a dialogue with Giuseppe, a straight man who has a serious crush on her.

The book seamlessly flips between past and present, taking readers to Gilda’s childhood and youth, and a portrait of a quirky, highly intelligent, introspective young woman emerges, one who is clearly an outlier in her nuclear family.

Austin succeeds in keeping the reader highly engaged, to discover who killed Grace and also how things will end up with Gilda. Her debut blends mystery and in-depth character examination, and just as it starts to feel a bit too intense, when we are thrust into the psyche of the neurotic central character, she defuses it with just the right amount of wit and black humor. The combination makes the book a page turner and marks Austin as a stellar storyteller.

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