Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is another book I picked up from a blogger recommendation. Ever since I read Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin when I was about 14, I have been fascinated by books that offer fictional speculations about life after death. Although I have no strong religious or philosophical beliefs about what happens after death, there’s definitely something comforting about imagining these parallel universes.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven tells the story of the death of Eddie, an amusement park maintenance man, and his experience upon arriving in heaven. As Eddie discovers, upon entering heaven you visit five people, each of which have an important lesson or message to teach you about life on earth before you are able to progress to the next. These episodes are interspersed with Eddie’s memories of his life, building up a detailed picture of his past.

Mitch Albom’s depiction of heaven is a clever one, and whilst many of his concepts are endearing and amiable ideas, it is also littered with sadness. The overarching notion of the novel seems to be about the interconnectivity of human life and the way in which one small action can have a huge spiralling impact of the paths of many others, whether you ever have direct contact with these individuals or not.

For this reason, the cyclical structures in the book are extremely effective in demonstrating these patterns of life. The amusement park is central to Eddie’s story, and our attention is frequently drawn back to events at the park that have had a detrimental domino effect on the lives of others. Eddie’s birthday really secures the cyclical form of the book, marking important points in his life that inevitably shape his future.

The characters in this book, including Eddie, seem quite distant, in that way that feels as if you are watching them through a bubble, like a snow globe, or perhaps in black and white. That is not to say that these are flat or underdeveloped characters; they are very real, but our vision of them is slightly hazy, as if the weight of memory has smudged the edges.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven consists of beautifully composed lines and intricate metaphors, which transform the book from an endearing tale of life and death to an uplifting and heart-breaking study of human nature.
All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.
 In the end, The Five People You Meet in Heaven secures itself as a book with positive messages, that derive from a number of very sad themes and events. I have nothing but praise for Albom’s novel, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is equally fascinated by stories of death and what follows.


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