Sunday, July 11, 2010


I picked up this one not knowing what to expect. I'd never heard of Ken Grimwood, and it hadn't come with and recommendation other than being a part of the Fantasy Masterworks series.

In Replay, Jeff Winston is a 43 year old trapped in a series of dead-end jobs and a terrible marriage. He dies suddenly of a heart attack, and wakes up in his eighteen-year-old body, back in college. Armed with a knowledge of future events, he becomes wealthy, and lives an entirely different life, until his dies again at 43, and wakes up again in his eighteen year old body.

What stops this being just another repeat-a-day-until-you-get-it-right* or wake-up-in-a-younger-or-older-body story is the depth and richness of the characterization, the haunting beauty of Jeff Winston's loss and heartbreak and joy and love. The concept has been done elsewhere, but there's an amazing power in Grimwood's writing. Towards the end, I couldn't put the book down, and ended up reading the last six chapters in one sitting (my usual rule is one chapter per night). The ending is also far more subtle, more bittersweet than the thumpingly obvious ones that other tales with the same basic premise leave you with.

If you read this book, expect to feel somewhat haunted when you finish it. Expect to wonder what you're doing with your life, whether you're on the right path, why you're on the path you're on, whether you have any control over the things that happen around you, and how you might even begin to make a rational choice in a world on unexpected consequences. I'm still being dragged through those tortuous, twisty paths of possibilities and improbabilities.

I think this will be one of the books that leaves me touched by its message for many years. There are a few of those over the years, books that have left a flavour in the mind long after the details of the plot and character are gone, that leave a few images and an atmosphere of wonder behind that comes back in flashes now and then; a feeling of having-felt-this-before when in a certain situation or reading a certain passage of prose.

I'd recommend reading this one. It's worthwhile.

*The novel pre-dates Groundhog Day, and the interwebs seem to think it influenced that movie

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