The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a paradox. It mixes the genres of fantasy and mild scifi. Lorna Love lives in Edinburgh; it is July 7th 2005 and she’s very upset by the news of the London bombings. Later, after a dinner party, she is disorientated and steps in front of a fast moving car.
Lorna wakes to find herself in a research facility called Heaven. Captained by God, Heaven is a ‘mother ship’ lost in space far from home. Irene is assigned to help Lorna with her transition to her new home. Irene, who I found latterly resembled Lorna’s best friend Suzie, is a chain-smoker who constantly calls her ‘petal’, ‘sweetie’ and ‘babe’. In her new home, Lorna can be anything, do anything, or request anything. All she desires is provided by Trinity, an all-purpose provider.
Why is Lorna here? Apparently God felt sorry for her and chose to rescue her over millions of other possibilities. During her transition period she looks back at her life through a series of dreams and memories. As these unfurl, people and events in Heaven reflect her old life.
The idea of this book was to write a modern-day adult version of The Wizard Of Oz. I can see the similarity with the use of the dream-coma scenario which is a well-used story arc. However, I found Laidlow’s Lorna unfeminine in mannerisms and thoughts, particularly in her use of bad language; she seemed more like a man in all but name. I didn’t, at any time, feel that I was inside the head of a woman; emotions, feelings and visual observations so typical of the female mind were generally missing from the narrative, and this excluded any connections I might have felt with the character. For me, I could easily see this book working better, if the author had lead with a male character.
The story is slow at times, due to over-long explanations that added little to the overall theme. I think with a little tweaking this book would be a good read for those with particular interest in the genre.
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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.