“Have you ever wondered ‘What if…?’ What if you’d taken that other job, gone on a date with that sweet guy, moved to a different city? Would an alternative life path have led to a happier ending?”
We make choices with certain preconceptions that they will lead us to alternative destinations and so we should make decisions carefully and proceed with caution. We think that if we pick A, we will reach a completely different stage as opposed to if we were to choose B. However, little do we know that sometimes no matter what choice you make, certain things are meant to happen, and certain people are meant to cross our way, as if they were predestined, as if, they were written in the stars.
Such is the story written by the incredibly talented and, my personal favourite, Ali Harris. Harris tells her readers this tale by utilising the metaphysical concept of possible worlds, where two different decisions regarding the same event lead to two lives that – at the onset – appear to be distinct, but essentially lead the persona to the same destination. What do we do then, knowing that our decisions might not necessarily lead us to a completely alternate life? Are we really free agents? Or is our free will just an illusion? As whatever is predetermined will happen anyway. Do we still give our choices as much bearing? Or do we allow destiny to take its toll and lead us wherever it must?
Although an extremely interesting philosophical topic that one can write a thesis on, for the purpose of this blog we will just be looking into it from a literary point of view, in relation to the book that Harris has written.
Bea Bishop is a strong-minded, caring and incisive woman with a passion for gardening and a love for her soon-to-be-ex-husband (in one world)/ soon-to-be-actual-husband (in another world) Adam. Bea has experienced a lot in her life; be it losing her father at a young age, falling into the depths of depression and self-harm, falling in love with the free-spirited and chaotic Kieran, encountering a life-changing event with him that in turn led to their separation and even falling in love with Adam and, in one world, getting separated from him.
But Bea still remains strong throughout the book. She knows that she has made many choices that have led her in different directions, but she still has the will to keep fighting. This happens when she learns to make amends with her past by attempting to find her father who left her many years ago.
The novel begins on Bea’s wedding day where, as she walks down the aisle, she sees her ex-boyfriend Kieran sitting amongst the guests. This in turn causes her to slip and fall unconscious and from then initiates a journey in two phenomenological worlds; one in which Bea wakes up and gets married to Adam and the second in which Bea leaves Adam.
The journey that both Bea’s take in this book is an extremely important one. They both find themselves in different situations that are implications of the choices that they made. In one world Bea is happily married to Adam, however, situations get complicated when work takes over his life and his larger-than-life, prosperous and extremely high-class parents’ role in their marriage starts to have a negative effect. In the other world Bea endures a terrible few weeks settled in a cove provided by her energetic and striking hippie mother Loni and her younger, more sensible and composed brother Cal. Both Bea’s lives appear to take different directions, however, eventually the reader realises that their lives are more parallel that we thought they were.
There are other eccentric characters in this book that help shape Bea’s life in many different ways. There is Milly; Bea’s decisive, disciplined and strict best friend who has always protected Bea. There is Kieran and his twin Elliot who formed an integral part of Bea’s past and shaped the restrained and perturbed woman that Bea ends up becoming. And finally, there is Adam; the love of Bea’s life. Adam is an affectionate, supportive and reliable partner who shows Bea the possibility of moving on with her life happily. But Bea is confused. Worried. Afraid.
This book consists of substantially different themes; of family, love, friends, depression, making amends with your past and death, and Harris manages to cover all of these different themes by cleverly exploiting the concept of possible worlds.
Harris is an incredible writer and I never fail to be exasperated by her skill for writing stories that release high levels of empathy within her readers. She has managed to employ such an important philosophical concept in a tactful manner and this is a strength of her writing.
Nevertheless, from a literary point of view I do feel that there were quite a few loose ends within this novel that could have been easily resolved. At times I felt like the narrator was being extremely repetitive when she described the role of her family or of Adam. I kept reading about how Loni was and how Milly was and how Cal was but I felt that as a rational person reading a story, I would have easily deduced those conclusions about their personality myself. I didn’t need the narrator constantly telling me what the main characters in her life were like. I needed her to show me; which I think she did well and that is why her constant descriptions of the characters were rendered useless.
At other times, I thought that Harris’ writing flare was missing and I was seeing too much of ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ and it is this skill that distinguishes an exceptional book from a good one. I know that professional editing and proofreading could have resolved such issues, however, it didn’t and that will be my only complaint with this novel.
Nevertheless, it was a good take on the possibility of alternate worlds that potentially overlap and it was an interesting read!
Finaly, I would recommend this book to those of you who like reading stories about philosophical concepts that otherwise would seem extremely intense and difficult to understand.
Until next week,