Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

This week I've decided not to review a science fiction novel. Instead I've chosen to talk about The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

When I started to review books, I decided to add a personal element to my musings, to give a glimpse into my life so as to allow readers to understand the mood I'm in when I reflect on what I've read. I started reading this novel on Sunday and finished it about 2 hours ago so my insights and the experience I brought into my reading are still very fresh.

On Saturday, Battboy decided it was time to go through his former wife's belongings and sort them into piles, those which will go to Erin in the future and those that hadn't really served any particular significance in his life and therefore could be discarded. We talked about it and decided to make it a family affair, so the Triffitt children could understand the life of the woman who influences their life and yet is missing from it. The trunk was pulled out of the shed and the trip to the past began.

I'm not going to go into the full experience of watching my beloved go through old Christmas cards, love letters, hair ties and diaries, but I will say that I found it rather more distressing than expected. Needing to distact myself from collision of Lee's past with my future, I picked up The Five People You Meet in Heaven and began to read.

Five People begins at the end of Eddie's life. He is about to die and we're treated to a countdown of his last few hours on earth and his beginning of his life in Heaven. Once in Heaven we met five people who influenced Eddie's life and helped him become the man he did.

At first glance, Eddie seems an Ordinary Joe, nobody special, the sort of bloke who lives and then dies with no discernible evidence of actually being here. As he meets up with his acquaintances in Heaven, however, you begin to realise that Eddie did matter, and influenced the lives (and deaths) of those around him.

Five People is, of course, the author's view of what happens to us when we die. At times it borders on being didactic, but this didn't stop it from being enjoyable. The story itself wasn't earth-shattering in its assumptions, but it did make me think about my own beliefs about death and what happens after we die. It left me feeling calm and more at peace with who I am and my place in the world.

Both depressing and uplifting, Five People helped me look at my own life in a renewed light. If I had to point to 5 people's lives I'd affected I could pick out Erin (my mothering skills she wouldn't have experienced if I hadn't pursued my relationship with Lee), Jon (as much as he resents me, I know I helped him become a more affectionate person), my grandmother (very unhappy and abused life, but she knew I adored her and that she was the centre of my universe until she died), my best-friend Sharon (for being everything a sister is) and of course, Battboy (anyone who knows us doesn't need it explained).

What was my favourite part of the book? The third person Eddie meets helps him gain an understanding of his father and the neglect (and at times down right abuse) suffered at his hands. The section that made the greatest impression on me begins with:

"All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the print of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair."

Having had the shattered type of childhood, I took this on board. Erin woke up about 6:30 and was, as usual, rather grizzly with it. Rather than sending her back to bed, I brought her into our bed and encouraged her to snuggle down in between us. I cuddled her, played with her and told her heaps how much I love her. She immediately rewarded us by cheering up.

So who would read this? Well, I guess anyone who loves books from the "Chicken Soup" stables will love this, but really, anybody looking for a quiet, happy read will enjoy it.
Any against remarks? It could have done with another edit. It was rather full of 'suddenly' and 'finally' and 'with that' type of sentences which I find irritating. It also presupposes a belief in God. Yes, I do believe, but not everyone does and I think a lot of people would be put off the first time they come across the "G" word.

Final remarks? Enjoyable, easy to read, thoughtful. What I needed at the time.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Angel of Ruin by Kim Wilkins

Last night Battboy and I were watching Simon Schama's History of Britain. A segment about The Great Fire of London came on. I turned to Lee and announced: "I know who started it. Kim Wilkins told me." I was smiling, I wasn't serious, but the way Kim handles the subject in her book Angel of Ruin, made it seem a plausible answer.

Not a book I read this week, but one I picked up while on holiday in Brisbane early last year. As many of you are aware, I started to miscarry the Battbaby at that time and was pretty much laid up in bed as a result. I had bought Angel of Ruin on a whim as I'd heard of Kim Wilkins but hadn't, at that point, read anything by her. It was thick and yes, I liked the cover, so I handed over Battboy's cold hard cash and took the book to bed.

And I'm so glad I did. This book saved my sanity.

I'm a person who likes to keep busy while being passive. I'll fold clothes while watching tv, read a magazine while feeding the baby or make a bolognese sauce for tomorrow night's dinner, while cooking tonight's roast. So for me to lie still, in bed, all hours of the day and night is very difficult. The book has to be really gripping for me to stay put.

Angel of Ruin accomplished this. From the outset I was hooked and couldn't let go. It was only due to Battboy's pestering that I managed to put it down in order to nap.

Set in 17th Century London, the story blurs the lines between fact and fiction, past and present, good and evil. At the plot's heart stand Mary, Deborah and Anne Milton, the daughters of John Milton (of Paradise Lost fame). Faced with exile from the family home, the three girls call upon an angel for help. Their saviour arrives in the form of Lazodeus, an angel of the Fifth Order, aka a guardian angel.

At first a caring benefactor, the angel quickly shows his true face, a face that is both beautiful and terrifying by turns.

I'm not normally a reader of horror, but Wilkins' tale kept me glued from beginning to end. Her usage of real people was so believable that I actually felt as if it could have been history I was reading rather than fiction. The plotting was logical and coherent and at no point did I feel "yeah, right."

As an editor, I often find that my need to 'proof' the story interrupts my enjoyment of it. Fortunately, this story was so good, I never felt compelled to edit it.

So, who would read it? Well, if you like your horror to be full of blood and guts and gore, this novel isn't for you. However, if you like the sort of horror that messes with your mind or features supernatural elements, you'll love this (the scene with the spiders gave my skin crawl).

If I had a rating system in place I'd give it 4 and a 1/2 stars. I take off half a star because I think that at times the present day story felt a little contrived.

Go, read, enjoy.