As in his previous novel, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, Charlie Laidlaw has taken on both the intensely personal and big sweeping ideas about time and space, examining what it is to be human, and situating his narrator’s existence in North Berwick within a much wider cosmic scale. I very much enjoyed The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, but I think this one is even better – there’s a confidence in his material that makes Laidlaw’s style so very readable, even when he’s dealing with mathematical and scientific equations that leave me very much outside my comfort zone.
Emma Rossini, daughter of a successful actor (coming in at number 18 in The World’s Top 20 Sexiest Men), should have the perfect existence, but life is rarely that straightforward. As the relationship between Emma’s father and his family becomes strained, Emma is forced to recognise the limitations of the adults around her. The nature of identity is explored imaginatively here, served up with the decent dose of wit that I’m coming to expect of Laidlaw’s writing. Emma is a flawed but very engaging narrator. Her perceptive observations about adult behaviour are often very amusing, as are her descriptions of her mother, even if we do recognise the tensions which lie below the surface in her mother’s life.
As with Laidlaw’s previous novel, there’s an extra facet to his storytelling which lifts this story way beyond the conventional coming-of-age narrative – I thoroughly enjoyed the thread relating to Emma’s grandfather and his once-derided scientific ideas about time and space which slowly gain traction with a new set of thinkers. It adds a dimension to Emma’s experiences, to her understanding of the relationships around her, and to our reading of her tale. This very assured story is quirky, thought-provoking and moving – an excellent read and highly recommended.