book reviews, thrillers & suspense
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Review: If I die before I wake ~ by Emily Koch

320 pages, paperback £8.96 / Harvill Secker (11 Jan. 2018)
352 pages, hardcover £6.29 / Vintage (9 Aug. 2018)
313 pages, Kindle £4.99 / Vintage Digital (4 Jan. 2018)
Random House UK

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Random House UK / Vintage. This review has also been published to NetGalley, GoodReads, LinkedIn, and my social media accounts.

the blurb:

HOW DO YOU SOLVE YOUR OWN MURDER?

Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.

A stunning edge-of-your-seat debut novel with an unforgettable narrator.

the review:

If I die before I wake is Emily Koch’s debut novel, but you would never have guessed that just from reading it. What a debut! There are few books that leave me so obsessed with them that I have to keep reading through the night, until I’ve flicked the last page, read the very last word.

Genre-wise, this is both a love story and a thriller. Do not however expect it to have a happy ending, as love stories do; rather, it borrows its ending from the thriller convention: there is a death, which everybody thinks must have been an accident, but turns out to be a murder.

So far so good. Only, it’s just that the victim, Alex, is not exactly dead, not in the usual sense of the word: he is in a persistent vegetative state, supposedly unable to perceive or relate to his surrounding reality. In fact, Alex has developed Locked-In Syndrome as a consequence of the brain damage suffered during his “accident”, and all he can do is lie helplessly on his special bed and listen, powerless, to the conversations his nurses and medical staff, visiting friends, girlfriend and family have around him.

His outlook on life is grim; test after test fails to show any significant brain activity, and Alex wishes he were simply allowed to die. However, as he puts bits and pieces of all the conversations he overhears together, he begins to suspect his accident might not have been an accident after all, and starts obsessing about solving his own murder and protecting his girlfriend Bea, the love of his life, before he dies (or before his machines are switched off, whichever comes first).

And that is something that he in the end does, in his own mind, finally making him ready for the end he knows is coming. His girlfriend has stood by him for two years, but even she has begun to have doubts, and embarks on a hasty relationship that leaves her feeling and acting as if she is being unfaithful to Alex, having an affair behind his back. She is the last obstacle to his life support being switched off. But now she’s told him that she’s ready to let go of him and move on with her life.

and the verdict:

I loved reading this novel. It is rather accomplished, and forces us to ponder such questions as the nature of life and death — are you really alive if you’re in a coma? — as well as the validity and elasticity of our conceptions — and preconceptions and misconceptions — about euthanasia, and where it stands when considered against murder.

You’ll end up, probably, as I did, brooding over concepts of lawful and unlawful killing, and how tenuous sometimes the distinction between the two might become: if the family had known of the Locked-in Syndrome diagnosis, would they have switched the life support machines off? And if they hadn’t, would it have been a good or a bad deed? Was it a good deed to switch them off at all?

And is the doctor who guided the family towards the decision of withdrawing life support from Alex, but shadowed over the fact of the Locked-in Syndrome, guilty of murder, or did he do a ‘good deed’, a thing well done??

But if Alex was not alive in the full sense of the word, then switching his life support off was just that, not euthanasia, not lawful killing: letting Alex free to sink or swim while knowing full well he would be drowning.

The descriptive tags I chose for this book were #sad, #heart-wrenching, #touching, #thought-provoking, #beautiful, #unique, #original, #compelling, #thrilling, #gripping, #accomplished, #unmissable

Genre pegging: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers
Verdict: strongly recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
my favourite books; this month’s best; 

 

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