Top critical review
Predictable, Simple, Ultimately Pretty Boring
Reviewed in the United States on October 2, 2020
I was looking forward to this book. In fact, it’s the first book in years that I actually pre-ordered. The premise is interesting enough: there is an ethereal library that exists between life and death. You are permitted to choose any book from the shelves and each book contains an alternative life. Each life is what would have resulted if you changed a single decision you regretted. Interesting, right? Like you could see what would have happened if you’d gone for that coffee date or pursued that master’s degree or kept playing piano. In the midst of each new life, if the life-hopper finds herself disappointed, she winds up back at the library to try again. Eventually, you’ll either find a life that is the best possible outcome or your “root life” blinks you away into death.
Unfortunately, the premise is played out in the most expected way possible. Nora Seed reverses her regrets and realizes that even the best alternate universes have uncertainties and pain and sadness and disappointment. Even when she winds up with her dream job and a great family, she can’t stay to play this life out. Why? Well, because it isn’t really “hers.” So, surprise, surprise, she ends up waking up from her suicide attempt with a new appreciation for the life she once had and longed to depart.
If you read the first 30-40 pages of this book, you’ll probably be able to write the rest of it in your mind. It’s supposedly an opportunity to explore infinite universes, so why choose the most predictable course of actions? To get across the point that you ought to realize the beauty of the life we have around us? Just write a greeting card to convey the message; an entire book is unnecessary. Additionally, it seems like the author either doesn’t understand or chose not to really explore the idea of infinite options. In all her lives, the most remarkably unique one is granted one sentence of exploration, “In one life she only ate toast” (212). Every other life is just variations on themes of work, friends, romantic partners, and family. Of the infinite possibilities available to explore, nothing unexpected happens. It’s maddening as the author keeps smashing his readers over the head with ideas that anything might happen while never delivering on the promise.
The writing style is difficult to evaluate. It just feels there. Sentence after sentence slowly moving the predictable story forward. It’s utilitarian prose lacking poetry and depth--seemingly at odds with a book that is attempting to spelunk the internal caverns of a deeply depressed person. The author constantly quotes philosophers but doesn’t seem to have any real interest in engaging seriously with philosophical ideas. It’s a novel in form but a cheesy self-help book in content. This novel is a seed of an interesting idea which was never cared for and died below ground. Unfortunate.