The Things We Learn When We’re Dead
by: Charlie Laidlaw
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Humor
Publication Date: January 26, 2017
With elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead shows how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, and how sometimes we can 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?
At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decision to make and that maybe she needs to find a way home. – Goodreads
Leaning much more towards the contemporary fiction than humorous side for myself, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead works the best in its creative setting. Perhaps the best way to start is that The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is set up in a structure that takes us between the present state of after Lorna’s accident and waking up in a foreign place that she realizes is a spaceship called HVN and is run by a man calling himself God. How can you not stop to think about whether heaven is actually run by some alien life who is stranded in limbo and has the power to live for eternity. The constant question is whether this was the vision of her death or was this all in her head or maybe some other situations will come to mind as we also get Lorna’s significant moments in life that create a connection to the memories that are regenerating as the time passes by in heaven. In many ways, the story here is something of a character study in itself because of the focus pretty much solely on Lorna. Other characters, no matter how close, were simply passing through her life and things that affected or observed her choices. In that way, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead works very well. It actually achieves quite a few moments of where we get to see the little details of her pass sprinkle into the present people and locations that she visits in heaven.
However, where the story that fall a little bit apart is something of the overly descriptive spots or sometimes feeling like the past had way more focus and detail than it needed to have. It is the defining points of her life but sometimes it also failed to really see the importance of some of the people that kept recurring or simply situations that didn’t seem to matter so much. While that is the case, the writing and word choice is something that I haven’t seen in a while using some obscure things in comparison (at least in my opinion) and added that extra bit of detail and creativity that gives it merit. I guess what I’m saying is that the writing overall was very good but the story was a little overly long for its own good and as the book progressed to the end, the past events dominated over the present and it felt like it lingered a little bit too long and the balance of the two was lost on me.
Overall, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a decent read. Its not exactly a page turner through and through but the creativity here deserves a lot of credit. Life is made up of our choices and how we choose to live our lives and in many ways, Lorna’s life story in all its detail is very honest and realistic. It might have dragged at certain parts but very few stories do hit those personal journeys with so much honesty and it works on that level. At least I was able to relate to some of her sentiments that she went through.
On a side note, the guy characters here have last names related to birds, “Bird, Dove, Crow”, it makes me wonder if there’s something more about freedom or something linked that I can’t find a connection to, or maybe I’m just overthinking it.
Goodreads score: 3/5
Purchase link: Amazon
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.
2 Printed Copies of The Things We Learn When We’re Dead
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