*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is about how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, but how we can sometimes get a second chance.
On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.
It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?
Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed?
In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.
As it says in the blurb, The Things We Learn When We Are Dead does contain elements of both fantasy and sci-fi, however it falls into neither of these genres and is in fact a deeply thought-provoking exploration of the choices we make and how we rationalise them to ourselves at the time and in retrospect.
The narrative follows Lorna Love after she has been hit by a car and woken in… well, it might be Heaven with a God who watches over us and follows his own plan and purpose…or it might be HVN, a spaceship manned by aliens, including one called God who is the captain responsible for stranding them in deep space…or…well it is really up to Lorna and the reader to decide what is happening, and then Lorna needs to make the biggest decision. Will she stay or will she go?
The majority of the storyline consists of flashbacks of Lorna’s life from childhood to her current situation, as she tries to reincorporate her memories and make sense of the narrative of her own life. The alert reader may pick up the many clues strewn through Lorna’s after-life setting that lead to the most likely answer as to why she is there and where ‘there’ really is. I particularly enjoyed lacing the two narratives together in this way, collecting each new piece of the past and slotting it in to reveal more of the current picture.
I was slightly less convinced by Lorna’s relationships throughout the story. With the insight into her thoughts I was aware of the people she valued, but I didn’t get any sense of warmth in her feelings for them. This created a feeling of disconnection or distance from her life which at first was disconcerting, but also added to the strangely serene-yet-uncomfortable feel of her post-life.
The ending is really nicely handled to leave some ambiguity whilst also clearly pointing at the author’s intention behind the story. It fits perfectly with the whole tone of the book, of introspection and self-understanding.
Overall this book is a fascinating and thoughtful read which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who enjoys a personal journey read that is smooth yet deep. Personally I will definitely be looking for more by this author!
At the end of her Edinburgh street, where it joined a busier road, was a security camera perched high on a metal pole. If anyone had been watching they would have seen a slim young woman in a red dress illuminated under a streetlight. They would have seen that she seemed agitated, her feet fluttering on the pavement’s edge, her hands raised to her face, turning this way and that, and then stepping into the road. She seemed to be crying, unsure what she was doing. They would have seen the approaching car and that the young woman was looking in the wrong direction. When she did hear it, turning in mesmerised surprise, it was too late.
– Charlie Laidlaw, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead
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