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.


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