“She didn’t know what to say to this, or how to tell him she wasn’t strong, the patina of her resolve was made of soft metal. She wasn’t strong, but had become good at pretending – so good that only she knew it. She had developed a chameleon’s skin; she could change colour hide behind a false facade. She wasn’t made of steel. She still sometimes slept with a light on, and still sometimes heard a small child crying.”
Author: Charlie Laidlaw Published: 2017 Pages: 499
I loved the sound of this plot as soon as I read the blurb because it was so ridiculous that I just had to know what happened. Lorna Love has an ordinary life; she works in HappyMart while studying to become a lawyer and lives with her best friend, Suzie, who is trying to make it as an actress. While on her way home from a dinner, Lorna steps out in front of a car and then wakes up in what appears to be a hospital. She soon realises however, that she is in fact dead. Heaven, or HVN, is not quite the ethereal white-walled place she’d imagined, and instead she finds herself on a spaceship run by God, full of everyone from Sean Connery to Bill Clinton, or at least people with their faces. The novel follows Lorna as she comes to terms with the fact she’s dead while also rewinding to parts of her life from childhood to the moment she was killed.
Laidlaw plays God in a way you never would have even imagined. It is funny, evocative and so very honest. One of the reasons I think this book is such a success is it finds the perfect balance between being profound while also utterly ludicrous. On one page Laidlaw will be effortlessly delving into a trauma from Lorna’s past, and on the next, she will be discussing a hamster infestation with the onboard computer, Trinity. Frankly, Laidlaw is a genius. The concept of HVN is completely believable because, of course, we don’t know what happens when we die. In this sense, I loved how unconventional Laidlaw’s version of the afterlife was. He questions all preconceived conceptions we might have, while also portraying something actually quite plausible.
The comedy between the characters on HVN directly juxtaposes the profound nature of the events which happen in Lorna’s life. Laidlaw allows the reader to see Lorna struggle with grief, betrayal, and the confusing relationship she has with her family and her best friend, which he does in a heart-warming fashion. Everything that happens to Lorna is nothing out of the ordinary and as such I felt an intense connection to her just because we are the same species, struggling through the pains of human life. As I mentioned in my review of Gods and Conquerors, and also in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I adore books which portray humans at their most vulnerable and honest. I love reading about far away places and distant alien things (such as HVN) but mostly, I love anything that shows me what it truly means to be human.
Lorna was relatable in her inability to be perfect and in her struggle to achieve what she wanted from life. All the characters in the novel were believable and funny and most importantly Laidlaw managed to portray them in a way that made me actually care about them. I wanted the best for all of them and cared about their storylines and I think that on its own is enough to say this book was a triumph. There’s no doubt I will definitely read anything else that Laidlaw writes and I hope there is more to Lorna’s story, or at least more about HVN.
Thank you to the author Charlie Laidlaw for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.