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

Lorna Love is returning home from a dinner party when she’s knocked down by a car. She wakes up in what she assumes is a hospital – albeit a wish and silent hospital.

At first, nobody will tell Lorna anything, and she can remember nothing. Slowly, she discovers she is in Heaven, aka HVN – a displaced spaceship controlled by a benign and hippy God. But if this really is heaven, Laura wants to know why it’s so empty and why she’s been chosen?

As her memories, good and bad, begin to return, she realises there may be a way home, if only she can make the right decision.

Charlie Laidlaw has created a humorous novel that, contrary to its setting, is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. The story moves between Laura’s present – HVN – and her life; as we watch that unfold, we see Laura’s opportunity to reflect on her past, to make sense of it, and ultimately, to get a second chance.

Essentially, Laura’s in her own dreamscape, presumably hovering between life and death, an experience both eye-opening and absurd. Promoted as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz (which more or less passed me by!) I found it more Star Trek meets Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Either way, it’s an intriguing premise.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead transitioned seamlessly between present and past. I found Laura’s past, her life, far more compelling than her present and enjoyed the gradual explanation of how she’d come to be the person she was. The HVN element just wasn’t quite enough somehow, almost not necessary (she could just have been in a real hospital, or a coma or…) and the argument that Laura was there only because God felt sorry for her didn’t convince me. But then, I suppose, this is Laura’s version of heaven, not mine…and that’s the key to it.

That said, it was certainly HVN and its quirky characters that generated the humour alongside Laura’s somewhat sad life, so on that basis it added an important dimension.

Definitely an enjoyable read.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is published by Accent Press and available as paperback and eBook.


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