Book Review: The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

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.

What I Thought:
As the blurb indicates, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a difficult book to pigeonhole. There are elements of both sci-fi and fantasy in the book, but the overiding feel of it is that it strays more into the realms of spirituality. That certainly isn’t to say that it is a religious book, as that would most definitely not be my thing, but it does ask interesting questions about our mortality, perspective and the decisions we make throughout our lives.

Lorna, as a main character is distinctly average. She is not rich, she’s pretty but not knock-out, she’s got where she is in life by working hard, not because of who her family is. She’s had setbacks and tragedy in her family life and, painful as it’s been, she has overcome it. This is what makes her so relatable – this book could be about any one of us, being asked to look back on life and see where our decisions have changed our direction. As a person who seems to very often think about where different decisions might have taken me, Lorna really resonated with me.

From the cover art to the twists and turns of the story, you can tell that this is a quirky book – an infestation of hamsters onboard a space ship should tell you that much – but it is not so quirky and off-the-wall that it is not enjoyable. Reading about Lorna’s teenage holidays and romances brings back fond memories making this a very cosy book to read.

Ultimately, this is definitely a book to mull over – are we so very different to Lorna, and if we had the chance to go back over our memories and help them inform our future, what would we do?

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is published by Accent Press. To find out more about the book and Charlie Laidlaw, you can check out his website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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