“Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life – until the night Rachel’s heart stopped beating. Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can’t forget her, Rachel can’t quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems…”
Rachel dies on her 36th birthday. One minute she’s enjoying a romantic dinner with her husband Max; the next, she’s dead.
Now Rachel finds herself in a hazy, in-between place, totally alone but fully aware of who she is and what she’s lost. To make it worse, the whiteness that now surrounds her sporadically parts, dropping her back – unseen and unheard – into Max and their daughter Ellie’s lives, where Rachel must observe them as they struggle on without her.
Narrated entirely from Rachel’s perspective, that of the dead wife, the book is divided up into 7 parts, all named for the different stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. And it’s not just the family Rachel has left behind who must traverse all of these feelings; Rachel must also run the gamut of grief.
Beginning on the first anniversary of her death, we join Rachel at the point when Max finally succumbs to the pressure from friends and family and starts to date again. After some cringeworthy dates, he meets the beautiful Eve, and the book builds as their relationship develops and Rachel’s heart beaks.
The book touches upon different types of grief, but is also the story of a mother’s love for her child; Rachel for Ellie, Eve for the children she might never have, Rachel’s mother for the daughter she has lost and the granddaughter she fears will be lost if Max remarries.
There are some heartbreaking moments, such as Max’s first night with Eve and the scene when Ellie and Max finally sort Rachel’s possessions, deciding what to keep and what to throw away, and all set against the background of Rachel realising that as an unseen, unheard presence she can only watch as their lives move on without her.
This is a book about death and so it’s quite a maudlin read, even with the heartwarming moments. I can see that for anyone who has lost someone close, this could be very emotive read. I didn’t feel that that the dialogue always worked well – the over repetition of the words ‘Mummy’ and ‘Munchkin’, which pepper much of Ellie’s and Max’s conversations, can grate. Having said that, I enjoyed the development of the story and the premise that life, ultimately, goes on.
The book has a beautiful cover – embossed and striking. I got a sense of a Richard Curtis-style film while reading this. It’s bittersweet but ultimately redeeming.
Many thanks to Jane for the review, and Penguin for the review copy.