Tuesday 5 December 2017

The Things We Learn When We're Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

The Things We Learn When We're Dead by Charlie Laidlaw
Published in the UK by Accent Press in January 2017.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets The Lovely Bones in this surrealist, sci-fi comedy.

On the way home from a dinner party she didn't want to attend, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.

It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident. Or does God have a higher purpose after all?

At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that she needs to find a way home…

Don't be misled by the rocket on the cover of The Things We Learn When We're Dead. The novel does partly take place on a spaceship, but it is more literary fiction than science fiction. Our heroine, Lorna Love, starts out by dying rather abruptly and we then discover her life through her memories. It's not a unique plot device, but I thought it particularly well employed here. I liked Lorna and could easily empathise with both her immediate predicament and the choices she made to get herself there. For a novel centring on a death, The Things We Learn is very funny. Laidlaw's sense of humour is very similar to mine so, rarely for me, I was actually audibly laughing on several occasions.

There is a serious side to this story. Lorna explores how her younger self's idealism became diluted and how other people's expectations affected the life path she chose. I liked the contrast between the realism of these 'on Earth' settings compared to the 'in Space' scenes. Laidlaw has a great eye for scenic detail enabling me to envisage Crete, which I have never seen, just as well as Edinburgh, which I have visited. Ideas such a the bird-themed boyfriends and a brace of George Clooneys are fun - and you'll have to read the book yourselves to understand these!

The Things We Learn is an engaging novel which kept me engrossed throughout its pages. I guessed quite early on how it would end in principle, but not the varied themes and ideas that would lead there. I think this book can be read and appreciated on different levels and will appeal to a wide readership. It is an entertaining story that can be simply enjoyed at face value or it could be a trigger to consider our own life choices - how far we might have strayed from the lives we imagined we would lead.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Charlie Laidlaw / Contemporary fiction / Books from Scotland


  1. up the plot doesn't sound very unique but... wow I want to read this book just because of the title! and then "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets The Lovely Bones in this surrealist, sci-fi comedy."??? wow! and a 5-star review!

    1. It's a great story! I think you'll enjoy it :-)

  2. Great review, Stephanie :) I feel like I will probably like this book too. I read a short excerpt before accepting the review copy and I liked the style :)

  3. The Things We Learn When We're Dead is Free on Kindle until the 27th June 2018: https://amzn.to/2LWC7Wr