The First Time Lauren Pailing Died…
About the Book:
Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old the first time she dies.
Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too.
But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.
And so it is that every ending is also a beginning. And so it is that, with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to finally being found…
Perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson and Maggie O’Farrell, The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is a book about loss, grief – and how, despite it not always feeling that way, every ending marks the start of something new.
This was such a good book. Excellent really. But it’s got me all tied up in knots about how to review it. The very essence of it is its uniqueness, but to consider that with any depth is to ruin the story for potential readers. Perhaps, before getting into what this book is, I’ll mention what it isn’t – because it could be easily interpreted as either time travel or ‘sliding doors’. It’s neither. Think quantum mechanics, and you’re heading in the right direction. However, before this scares you off, The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is not science fiction. I feel like I’m talking in riddles right now! But now that you know what it’s not, let’s talk about what it is.
Clearly, by the title and blurb, you know going into this that at some point, Lauren Pailing is going to die. More than once. She does in fact die twice. I feel I can say this without it being a spoiler. She’s also not the only character to die and then keep on living. How does this work? This is where the quantum mechanics comes in.
“Well, there is a many-worlds interpretation that helps to explain the randomness of our universe. People tend to think of this in terms of parallel universes. You can, for example, be alive in one and dead in another.”
This kind of thing really intrigues me. On one level, I find it so incredibly complicated it makes my brain hurt, yet I’m still drawn to this kind of physics. Maybe in a parallel universe I’m a physicist? Once I finished this novel, I immediately dove into some further reading on this many-worlds interpretation that is ever so briefly mentioned towards the end of the novel. I found this Stanford paper which in its introduction, concisely summed up the theory from which the novel springboards:
‘The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics holds that there are many worlds which exist in parallel at the same space and time as our own. The existence of the other worlds makes it possible to remove randomness and action at a distance from quantum theory and thus from all physics.
The fundamental idea of the MWI, going back to Everett 1957, is that there are myriads of worlds in the Universe in addition to the world we are aware of. In particular, every time a quantum experiment with different possible outcomes is performed, all outcomes are obtained, each in a different world, even if we are only aware of the world with the outcome we have seen. In fact, quantum experiments take place everywhere and very often, not just in physics laboratories: even the irregular blinking of an old fluorescent bulb is a quantum experiment.’
Confused? Please don’t be. Because honestly, even though the story operates with this many-worlds interpretation at its core, the science of it is not a big part of the novel. I just really like to get answers about things like this, to dig deeper for plausible explanations. So does our protagonist, who towards the end of the novel, stumbles upon this notion as a viable explanation as to what’s been happening to her.
For as long as she has been alive, Lauren Pailing has been able to see rips in the universe. They appear to her as ribbons of light and they hover and stalk her until she peers into them. These rips are like windows to other worlds. Sometimes she sees people she knows, other times the view is unfamiliar. If she touches one of the rips, she suffers a great deal of pain and even injury. On the two occasions she dies, she wakes up in another version of herself, in a life that is at once familiar yet also strange. But we don’t leave that previous world. We still get to see what’s happening without Lauren, whilst also sticking with Lauren as she makes her way in her new life. So too, for the other character that dies and subsequently makes a jump into another world. Each world has measurable differences, some more obvious than others. It was amusing to note these differences as they popped up. But again, I want to stress, none of this story is confusing. I always knew exactly which world I was in and who was meant to be there. Such clever writing with clear intent!
There are some searing moments within this story, seeing how much of it is given over to grief. But it’s so beautifully rendered, a meticulous examination of love and loss, the evolution of a family that is forced to change by circumstances out of their control. The disappearance of Peter Stanning was the one thing that had no measurable difference between worlds. He always disappeared under mysterious circumstances on the same date and he was always never found. His impact upon Lauren’s story offered an interesting angle and her knowledge of his disappearance appeared to provide a link across worlds. Finding out what happened to Peter seemed akin to finding out what was happening to her.
I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving away the story entirely but suffice to say, this is such a uniquely involving novel, ambitious in its scope yet finite in its execution. I loved it. From the first page to the last, I was hooked. A brilliant debut that I couldn’t recommend higher if I tried. And what about that gorgeous retro cover? It’s just perfect for the story. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is one of my top reads for 2019.
Thanks is extended to HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a copy of The First Time Lauren Pailing Died for review.
About the Author:
Alyson Rudd was born in Liverpool, raised in West Lancashire and educated at the London School of Economics. She is a sports journalist at The Times and lives in South West London. She has written two works of non-fiction. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is her first novel.
The First Time Lauren Pailing Died
Published by HarperCollins Publishers (HQ Fiction – GB)
Released 22nd July 2019