I have a real gem for you today. I absolutely loved this book and as I started it on New Year’s Eve and finished it on New Years Day, I don’t know whether it’s my favourite book of 2020 or 2021 or both!
The blurb …
Sylvia knows she’s running out of time. Very soon, she will exist only in the memories of those who loved her most and the pieces of her life she’s left behind.
So she begins to write her husband a handbook for when she’s gone, somewhere to capture the small moments of ordinary, precious happiness in their married lives. From raising their wild, loving son, to what to give their gentle daughter on her eighteenth birthday – it’s everything she should have told him before it was too late.
But Sylvia also has a secret, one that she’s saved until the very last pages. And it’s a moment in her past that could change everything.
My thoughts …
Please don’t let the subject matter of this book put you off because you think it’ll be too sad. I have to admit that I was quite apprehensive about reading this one because I was worried that I would give myself a migraine from all the crying – I am very emotional! But I was so pleasantly surprised because this book is absolutely so much more than that. Yes it made me cry, but it also made me smile and left me in awe!
It’s a real page turner for a start, as it is brilliantly constructed via three timelines or perspectives, Sylvia’s manual ‘For When I’m Gone’, ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ which is brilliant because it breaks up the more emotional parts of the book.
The book’s ‘Then’ chapters take us back in time to see how Sylvia and her husband Paul first met, their courtship and marriage and when their children came along, which I really enjoyed. Whilst ‘Now’ focuses on Paul and the children getting used to life without Sylvia around after she very sadly dies from breast cancer.
The chapters ‘Sylvia’s Manual’ are written from Sylvia’s perspective to Paul and covers everything he needs to know, from the kids’ favourite cheese to the prospect of him finding a new partner. These were definitely the most emotional chapters for me as Sylvia tells us her thoughts and feelings about her illness, her memories, her love for Paul and her hopes for their children’s futures. One thing to note is that the author doesn’t actually write about the event of Sylvia’s death which I thought was a good decision because I think it would have been too harrowing.
What I found most interesting about this book is that we get to know Sylvia ‘warts and all’, as a flawed character just like any one of us, she’s not glorified or portrayed as a saint because she’s ill or dying. She is a fascinating character with serious personal issues and complex relationships, and I loved getting to know her.
I felt that this story really spoke to me as a woman, wife and mother, about my hopes and fears and even just everyday life, it was so well observed and perceptive. I’m blown away that the author has taken one of my greatest fears in life and turned it into an achingly beautiful, touching, and uplifting story.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
About the author …
Rebecca Ley is a journalist, writing for various newspapers including The Times and the Guardian. She is a graduate of the Faber Academy and lives in London with her husband and three children. For When I’m Gone is her first novel.
Follow Rebecca on twitter @rebeccahelenley or go to www.rebeccaley.com
I really hope that Rebecca is writing again because I want to read everything that she writes! No pressure 😂
Thanks for reading!