North, who specializes in far-out stories (see, for example, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, 2014), here takes on a new challenge: an almost entirely plotless novel. Its central character is Charlie, the relatively new Harbinger of Death—when the story begins, he’s been in the job a mere 10 months—whose job is to travel around the world presenting gifts to certain people. Are these people about to die? Charlie doesn’t know; he only knows that the home office (located in Milton Keynes, England) tells him where to go, whom to see, and what to bring them: a tool kit, perhaps, or some rare tea. Readers looking for a linear story, with a clearly defined plot that builds to a conclusion, might be a bit put off: the novel is essentially a series of vignettes—Charlie goes here, Charlie goes there, Turkey, Greenland, Kennington, Charlie meets people who show him new aspects of himself. But if you pay close attention, you sense an overarching theme: the world is changing and not in a good way. North, a writer who’s unafraid of taking big risks, takes more than usual here. The result is a novel that seems unstructured and aimless, until we realize that that may be the whole point. For readers willing to take a chance.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, April, 2017.