The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw
Publication Date: January 26th 2017
Publisher: Accent Press Ltd
Read Date: July 9th 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Fantasy / Sci-Fi
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.
*** Note: I won signed copy of this book in giveaways during blogtour. Many thanks to author for sending me this beautiful book. ***
You might have head of someone dead for few seconds or a minute and resuscitated back to life. Something happened in those few seconds or minute and person that came back feels different, back with new thought and purpose in life and wanting to do things differently. Even some claiming to have seen a magical white light or a figure that changed everything. This concept was wonderfully turned into a novel by author.
TTWLWWD was largely a contemporary fiction mixed with fantasy, a life story of Lorna and things she learned, what she did with her life, after she is dead. It was about – how we live life, mistakes we make and consequences of those mistakes, how it affects even people around us; fighting inner demon; following dream to do something good with life and do not waver from it no matter what life throws at you. Sadly main character, Lorna, learned all this once she was dead!
Protagonist Lorna was clever, sarcastic, modest, self-effacing, and unsure at times. I liked her ideologies and her principles. Given the chance of all facilities and posh lifestyle on HVN, she found them preposterous and I liked this in her. She had many good characteristic but was flawed. One minus point about her was she was comparing her life with her rich friend Suzie and that indirectly affected her life decisions. I feel, the choices she made were not wrong in a way but the logic she applied behind it and acted accordingly was wrong. It was difficult understand this character at one go because of the way book was written.
Suzie was my favorite in this book. She was free spirit, ambitious, she knew from the very beginning what she wanted in life and did that, was a great friend who never formed any opinion and judgment for Lorna and even reproved her when she felt Lorna was going in wrong direction in life. She stayed with Lorna in all stages of life. This bonding between Suzie and Lorna was heartwarming and comforting.
Other secondary characters played great role in Lorna’s life and I liked how they were represented.
I liked the way all chapters were written. Start was promising with death of Lorna, how she died and what she was doing before her accident with the hint of something wrong she did. Book exactly started with End and ended with Beginning. It was third person narrative written from Lorna’s POV, with two important parts written intermittently – 1) Lorna’s life narrated in many flashbacks which were her fragmented memories that were coming back to her as a process of regeneration; set in Scotland –Edinburgh and North Berwick. 2) Her Life after death in the heaven, set in HVN spaceship where god and other immortals lived.
Lorna’s confusion and disorientation with pieces of information, her new surrounding on HVN and the fact of being dead was depicted nicely, I could feel her frustration and helplessness with not enough answers. As she learned and got her memories bits by bits readers get to know more about both her past and present world. There was no other way of guessing what exactly happened, what Lorna did wrong or right, or even whether I like her or not, I was just going with flow. This made book extra interesting and made me read it to the end. I curious to know about Lorna and her life more and to see how she was developed throughout the book. As all fragmented memories came together towards the end, the story made more sense.
I liked how subtly plot was executed. It was challenging to read whole life story of Lorna as fragmented backstory with in-between HVN part but was steady paced with mix of amusing world building and emotional ups and downs.
This books had most unique world building in which author gave different perspective to the concept of God, Heaven, what happens when someone dies and what people believe about life after death. HVN spaceship was governed by God. It had most high-tech system and immortals were kind of species who had lot similarities with people on Earth and were highly influenced by everything on Earth. There was no restrictions, they can smoke, drink, eat what they like, and can have all amenities one can ever imagine without spending a penny. All info about spaceship was given a scientific touch with the details of physiques, hyperspace and realspace.
My favourite part in this world building was Trinity which was computer system that help in running HVN smoothly. I loved her attitude. I liked all part of the book where she explained things to Lorna. Irene and God were amazing and I loved the freedom they gave to Lorna to believe what she wanted to believe. Their bickering and disagreements were amusing.
Another part I loved was the one where god explains how he helped people on Earth and why there were only few people on HVN and no other dead returned from Earth except Lorna. Lorna’s question on why the Earth is so messed up, why there is disease and war, and why he didn’t do anything about it was answered thoughtfully that changed the notion of blaming everything on God. I liked the way eternity and life was represented, pros and cons of eternal life, and how important it is to have purpose in life. All characters made mistakes in life including God. This insight was just awe-inspiring. There were many other insightful messages and the questions that made me think even after finishing the book.
End was great. I wish I could see what Lorna did with her choice later and how all the experience on HVN affected her.
Overall, it was cozy, quirky, ironic novel with innovative concept, cleverly written plot, and many insightful messages. Just loved this book. I recommend this book to all readers and I advise to read it with patience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I was born in Paisley, central Scotland, which wasn’t my fault. That week, Eddie Calvert with Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra were Top of the Pops, with Oh, Mein Papa, as sung by a young German woman remembering her once-famous clown father. That gives a clue to my age, not my musical taste.
I was brought up in the west of Scotland and graduated from the University of Edinburgh. I still have the scroll, but it’s in Latin, so it could say anything.
I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist. I started in Glasgow and ended up in London, covering news, features and politics. I interviewed motorbike ace Barry Sheene, Noel Edmonds threatened me with legal action and, because of a bureaucratic muddle, I was ordered out of Greece.
I then took a year to travel round the world, visiting 19 countries. Highlights included being threatened by a man with a gun in Dubai, being given an armed bodyguard by the PLO in Beirut (not the same person with a gun), and visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave in Samoa. What I did for the rest of the year I can’t quite remember
Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then. However, it turned out to be very boring and I don’t like vodka martini.
Craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize, and I’ve still to listen to Oh, Mein Papa.
I am married with two grown-up children and live in central Scotland. And that’s about it.
What do you think about the book and my review? Have you read this book already? Have you read something similar to this before? Share your thoughts in comment-box below.