Tuesday, 3 August 2010


I am just going to write a brief thought about this book before I pop up to the library and return it.
Now if you read the title too quickly you might assume that this was a book about near death experiences, when actually it consists of forty little tales imagining different versions of 'the afterlife'. I guess I should start by saying that I don't have a belief of any kind in any kind of afterlife. What we have here is someone using 'the afterlife' as a story writing exercise, to see how many different worlds he could create within the confines of the idea that after death your 'soul' goes on to somewhere else and exists forever. As my ex-husband used to say (see how you really can't get people out of your head no matter how you want to) heaven would have to be absolutely perfect, because an eternity of anything else would definitely be hell. None of the places described in this book come anywhere close. In many of them God seems to think he or she has created something pretty amazing, only to find that the human beings do not experience it as they anticipated. I like the one where God decides weighing up everyone's good and bad deeds is too complicated and opens heaven up to everyone, that just pisses off the 'good' people. In another people get to watch what is going on on earth in a huge video lounge. People spend their time following the ripples left by their own existence, until their membership expires, seen as a punishment, but saving them from having to watch things going wrong and everything they thought important whither away. In 'Death Switch' people try to cheat death and pretend to still be alive by creating a series of automated computer exchanges that take over when they die, and existence ends up simply being replaced by computers. In another God has vanished and people spend their time debating what has become of him. In yet another you are invited to pass judgement on yourself, based on comparison with all the 'you's' that you might have been if you had made better cleverer decisions. And in the end we have the final solution, the universe reaches the end of it's expansion and begins to contract and the whole of existence plays out in reverse, with the dead rising and babies returning to the womb, and nobody really understanding the meaning of it all any better on the way back.
It would be an excellent book for students or book groups to discuss because there are lots of interesting ideas in it about human frailty and the need to make sense of existence, and the search for meaning via external sources. I am in the middle of writing about Philip Pullman's 'Dark Materials' trilogy and he has an interesting 'afterlife' and solution to the problem which gave a lot of food for thought. So here's a poser: what would be your idea of heaven?


  1. I have lots of ideas, but since I don't believe in heaven and I am feeling blah, can't be bothered to expand. Although I suppose that having a long enough life to make all the things I want to make, and read all the books I want to read, and learn to play the guitar properly, before I die, would be heaven enough. But even then I can't make up my mind, as I would like to play the cello as well. And sleep through a night, and wake up refreshed, and have a back and hips that work properly. And lots of good food. So, having said I wasn't going to say anything, it appears that my idea of heaven is to be the person I want to be, i.e. a healthy,intellectual, creative, hedonistic heathen.

    I heard the author on radio 4 and thought I would read the book, but of course, I haven't, and no doubt it will be one the many that I never get around to. :-(

  2. I think that it is surely the transient nature of life that makes it worth living, that if it went on forever where would be the motivation to pursue things. Don't feel sad for the things you are unable to do, they are limitless. There was no image of heaven in this book that showed a place where you could fulfil these things, they were all images of 'nothingness', which all sound like hell to me.
    much love


Thanks for stopping by. Thoughts, opinions and suggestions (reading or otherwise) always most welcome.


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