Originally published: November 2019
Author: Alyson Rudd
Published by: HQ Stories
Length: 384 pages
Reading dates: 24-26 April 2020
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…
Our book club choice for April was suggested by a member who received The First Time Lauren Pailing Died as part of a subscription to the Rare Bird book subscription box. We couldn’t meet in person obviously so we “met” using Zoom – 10 of us managed to join and it was a really good discussion.
The beginning of the book tells us about Lauren’s life in a quiet cul-de-sac in Cheshire, about her neighbours and best friend Debbie and her parents Vera and Bob. She is a happy and artistic child but for as long as she can remember she sees something like sunbeams that no one else can see. She has learnt not to let them touch her as they leave her ill with headaches but she is able to peer into them and she sees alternate realities of her life and sometimes things that will happen in the future. Not surprisingly her parents are unnerved by this, especially when Lauren talks about her other mothers (which are all less beautiful and perfect versions of Vera), and eventually she learns to keep the visions to herself.
When she is 13 and on holiday with Debbie’s family there is a tragic accident and Lauren dies. From there the book carries on in a series of alternate realities. In one reality Lauren actually survives the fall and carries on with her life, In another Vera is so devastated and filled with guilt that she commits suicide and Bob eventually meets someone else. In a third reality, Vera and Bob survive their grief and go on to have another child together.
Once I realised the book was going to be following the same characters in a series of alternate realities I was a little worried. I don’t have a history of getting on well with books like this – The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton left me feeling confused. In The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett, it took me a long time to adjust between characters and timelines. But Alyson Rudd did something really clever here – I don’t know how but each time we started a new chapter (always told from either Lauren’s, Vera’s or Bob’s point of view), I was able to instantly know which reality we were in.
This is a really clever idea and it was executed brilliantly. In all of the realities, Bob’s boss, a man called Peter Stanning disappears and it is this disappearance that links the realities. In the reality where Lauren lives, she becomes an artist and uses the mystery of his disappearance as inspiration for her work. In the reality where both Lauren and Vera are dead, Peter helps Bob through his grief so Bob feels his loss greatly and ends up being close to Peter’s sons.
I also liked the way, especially in the third version of Lauren’s life, she remembers snippets of her previous life and notices what things are different. I found this really sad – imagine being in one life and them being thrust into another. For Lauren, being able to remember the people you’ve had to leave behind is heart-breaking,
Overall, out of the 10 of us, 9 of us scored this book highly. The one who was less keen had read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and had enjoyed it more. But I loved it – it was a clever idea, a mix of science fitcion and historical fiction and was a really compelling read. I’d highly recommend this! I notice Rudd has another book out later this year and I am looking forward to reading it.
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.