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The Things We Learn When We're Dead: A modern fairytale of love and loss that weaves together the inner conflicts of a young woman’s life. Kindle Edition
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Many of Lorna’s memories revolve around exploits with her stylish friend, Suzie, and Lorna’s relationships with men that, it has to be said, have not been entirely successful. I confess to feeling a pang of sympathy for poor sweet, stolid Austin (described at one point as ‘a rather dull dog with very few tricks’). As the book progresses, the reader sees that actions do indeed have consequences, even if unintended, and may set in motion a chain of events that can end tragically.
The book blurb describes The Things We Learn When We’re Dead as having ‘elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones’. Personally, I couldn’t detect that much of a connection with The Lovely Bones and only slight allusions to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If looking for cultural references, I would say the depiction of the stranded HVN spaceship draws more from Star Trek than anything else with its transporters, holographs and replicators. I enjoyed Lorna’s pleasure at the small, surprising miracles on the spaceship, like the ability of a chilled glass of wine to stay chilled even when drunk in the bath.
When it comes to The Wizard of Oz, certainly there are characters described as lacking courage and not having much of a brain that remind one of the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. However, I think a reader expecting this book to be a straight retelling of The Wizard of Oz may be disappointed. What they won’t be disappointed in is the quality of the writing, the quirky humour and the authenticity with which Lorna’s memories of her childhood and young adult experiences are described.
I really enjoyed The Things We Learn When We’re Dead. As someone who reads very little fantasy and science fiction only occasionally (and then more of the dystopian variety), I wasn’t really disappointed that the extra-terrestrial element takes more of a back seat as the book progresses. The ending didn’t particularly surprise me but I found myself wishing Lorna well in the future choices she makes.
The beginning of the story held a lot of promise and I was very keen to read on. The main character, Lorna, has a lot to contend with. Accepting she is dead but still apparently sentient and physically unscathed after her fatal accident, inevitably presents all sorts of emotional challenges along with re-evaluation and soul-searching. She has to come to terms with being a ‘temporal anomaly’.
However, the book then became a bit more of a challenge. There were a lot of flashback and dream sequences as Lorna’s memory gradually returned as part of her regeneration; this was clearly relevant to the overall story but rather too long-winded. The author poses a couple of questions for the reader to mull over but several times I forgot these key elements of the plot, due to all the padding.
I also found Lorna’s choice of language a little incongruous at times. When she initially wakes, she believes herself to be in hospital; she would doubtless be disorientated and probably ask where she was and how long she had been there but would she really greet a total stranger with the words ‘Who the hell are you?’
Inevitably, basing a book in space leads to comparisons with ‘Star Trek’; doubtless to counter this, the author himself makes the connection, more than once.
Laidlaw is a talented wordsmith. His use of humour and irony is well-placed and he has created some colourful characters, in the form of Irene and God. The dynamic between these supporting players is intriguing. His creation concept is very clever and well thought out and I loved his explanation for some of the achievements of mankind. He also poses some awkward questions which certainly made me think – is eternity the ultimate goal and if it were a possibility, would I choose it?
The idea of the crew of HVN looking like famous people was an amusing distraction and thankfully, they were so famous, that even I had heard of them. I particularly enjoyed the backhanded swipe at the ex-Prime Minister a lot of us love to hate! That alone was almost worth a bonus star.
For me, this is a cake with too much icing. It is a mixture of fun and sci-fi and had the plot not been interspersed with excessive slices of backstory, it would have been delicious. Nonetheless, the author has some quirky innovative ideas and I award him four well-deserved stars.
Book Reviewed on Whispering Stories Book Blog
*I received a free copy of this book, which I voluntarily reviewed
When Lorna Love is run over, she wakes in 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?
I loved reading the stories of Lorna's childhood as she remembered them, growing up in North Berwick, Scotland. It was very easy to feel her emotions too and she was a very likeable character, a joy to read and certainly the perfect and appropriate candidate for the story.
The infestation of hamsters stuck in the ventilation shaft that God is responsible for, a McDonalds for the crew onboard ship are all a hoot and I really could go on endlessly about all the amusing little things that make up this book.
This book is a great read and as long as you keep an open mind, is a fabulously fun way to spend a few hours.