The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw
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Published on 26 January 2017
I was contacted by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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.
This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some parts of it I really enjoyed and others not so much. The whole Heaven being a spaceship storyline did not really appeal to me, probably because I am not a huge sci-fi fan. It was an interesting concept, but not quite for me. I was also confused by God’s character and what the author’s stance was, as in does he believe in God or not? Not that it matters, but it confused me a little. For example the author would have this God character explain how he created mankind etc, sort of endorsing Creationism but then at other times, God would say that people are free to choose whether to believe in him or not… So I’m not too sure about all this, as an atheist I find it hard to read books that involve God-like characters as it sometimes rubs my beliefs (or lack thereof) the wrong way.
The part I liked the most about the story however, was discovering Lorna’s memories with her as her brain regenerated, and I’m glad most of the book consisted of that, since I wasn’t too fussed on the spaceship narrative. Lorna is such a lovable and relatable character. She is a young adult and not too sure where she’s headed in life. She makes mistakes and sometimes treat people inadequately, but her time in Heaven (or HVN) gives her the opportunity to revisit her memories and reflect on her behaviours. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be able to do that in daily life? Introspection and hindsight are gifts.
I also enjoyed the way this book is written. It’s simple, down-to-earth, ironic and satirical. It doesn’t take life or death too seriously, while still casting the message to enjoy the time you have on earth. It’s very light-hearted and easy to get into. I wasn’t too fussed about the ending, but I guess that’s just my personal opinion. I also felt like if you were reading it for the sci-fi narrative you could be disappointed as this storyline isn’t pushed much. Thankfully this wasn’t the part I was most interested in.
I would recommend it to anyone who enjoy a good introspective, almost philosophical read, and it might make you take a look at your own life and reflect on your own decisions and behaviours, which could be a good thing to try once in a while.