The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

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.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead captured my interest with a very alternative take on the concept of heaven and the afterlife. And the concept Charlie Laidlaw sets out before us certainly intriguing. Heaven, actually a spaceship stranded in our corner of space for millenia, keeping an eye on our progress. God, merely an ageing hippie out of his depth, far from home, captain of an essentially rudderless ship. But the core of the story is less around afterlife and the great beyond, and more how reflecting on memories from a new perspective change our perception of them.

The story starts out the tragic, early demise of Lorna Love – an aspiring lawyer. Hit by a car, distracted as she steps into the road, this makes for quite an impactful opening to what is in reality a quite light, hope-filled book. The narrative slips back a short period of time, to a dinner party with the senior-partner at a law firm she hopes to gain employment with. The author brings us right up to the accident once again within the first handful of pages, cleverly retelling it from the perspective of Lorna, rather than observed from a disembodied position as in the beginning of the book. Waking in a strange, sterile hospital, Lorna suffers confusion, morphing into irritation as she realises that her family aren’t around her as she awakens. Realisation begins to dawn on her that this isn’t a hospital and before long meets some of the residents of Heaven, or at least the spaceship called HVN.

As she spends more time on HVN, Lorna realises more and more of her memories return, some happy, some less so. With the benefit of hindsight and the chance to reflect on her life as a whole she sees things with a whole new perspective and with it, a chance to redeem herself and maybe even a second chance.

While I did feel the ending left a lot unanswered, kept me guessing, overall I enjoyed The Things We Learn When We’re Dead. It’s light-hearted and there is an undercurrent of hope. It really made me sit up and think. With that chance to look at our life choices and actions in the cold light of day, I think many people would consider how they might do things if given a second chance. The concept of the book is really interesting, the notion that heaven and God are not as they are thought to be. Any book that gives pause for thought is a worthy read.

My rating:

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