Caitlin Doughty
2019 | 240pp | £14.99
ISBN 9781474613392

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An image showing the book cover of Will the cat eat my eyeballs

When I was a child, I remember being terrified by the ending of Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. The scene is legendary: Elsa hands Donovan a gilded cup to drink from, only to shriek in abject horror as he shrivels and crumbles to dust before her eyes, aging decades in just a few seconds. For a young child still new to the concept of mortality, it was a horrifying and gripping – if inaccurate – visualisation of what happens to each of us when we shuffle off this mortal coil.

As an introduction to death, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? is a much less traumatic affair than Donovan’s fate, but that’s by no means a reason to call this book tame. Only a few pages into the book readers are treated to the mental image of an astronaut’s frozen corpse being shattered into chunks by a vibrating robotic arm, and things only get grislier from there. Considering that the book is a collection of answers to questions asked by children, author and mortician Caitlin Doughty certainly doesn’t pull any punches when the going gets icky.

That being said, the gore factor never feels overdone or excessive. Each question is answered clearly and concisely – no matter how gruesome the details may appear – in a way that manages to be both respectful of the delicate topic at hand and funny enough to keep you engaged. The book’s structure also reflects the understanding that one might not want to get bogged down in the details of their own mortality for too long; each chapter is only a handful of pages long and never lingers once the question at hand has been dealt with.

While the information contained within Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? is interesting enough in its own right, it is Doughty’s carefully balanced tone that carries the book. Her respect for the establishment of after-death care is clear throughout. At the same time, her humour and willingness to engage with difficult topics without losing her light-hearted approach can keep you going even if the dark topic starts to wear. There are several moments in the book that can draw an unexpected laugh – quite an achievement when discussing your grandmother’s hypothetical funeral.

Though it is ostensibly aimed at a younger audience, I think that there’s more than enough material in this book to interest older readers, provided you’re not overly squeamish. Even if you are, there are a number of chapters that manage to avoid the more gory aspects of death – check the chapter title before you begin and you’ll be able to skip the worst of it. As the book’s dedication suggests, this is a book for ‘future corpses of all ages’.

My only advice? Don’t read this book on the bus unless you’re comfortable with getting strange looks.