Review: The First Time Lauren Pailing Died

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died review

Alyson Rudd’s debut novel is an enchanting tale of loss, love and making the most of your life. 

What’s it all about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old the first time she dies.

Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too.

But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

And so it is that every ending is also a beginning. And so it is that, with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to finally being found…

What’s good about it?

This is a fantastic book for a debut novelist. The characters are well-formed and multi-layered, and the plot canters with enough pace to keep the intrigue heightened to the end. In fact, I read this in just a day while on holiday in The Lakes.

The Guardian described this book as “a stylish time-slip story a la Sliding Doors” and it certainly upholds the fantastical and contemplative qualities of that film. Lauren lives simultaneous lives in various universes, with Rudd cleverly giving just enough – or just too little – detail to allow readers to interpret the mechanics of those transitions for themselves. The book echoes the narrative meandering of Kate Atkinson and has a similar feel to The Lovely Bones and The Time Traveller’s Wife in its conceptualisation.

Rudd’s writing style is descriptive and eloquent, and there are moments of sincere tenderness and pain throughout this book. It’s both uplifting and life-affirming, while exploring the depths of human suffering and the lengths we go to compensate for that pain. Rudd is a strong, engaging writer and I’d certainly read her next book.

What’s not so good about it?

I’d hoped there would be more of a connection between Lauren and Peter Stanning than simply Lauren’s teenage obsession with her father’s missing boss. Sure, that narrative courses through the book as a thread that ties many of the characters together, but I had a number of theories racing through my brain while reading that weren’t fulfilled, which ultimately left me feeling slightly dissatisfied by the ending. I won’t divulge them now but let me know when you’ve read the book and I’d be happy to share my theories!

I was also a little disappointed about the explanation regarding Lauren’s parallel lives. There was an attempt at physics that didn’t feel credible to me and the start of ideas about each of the worlds of Lauren’s reincarnations being slightly different (there was one where Margaret Thatcher was never PM and another where cats didn’t exist – neither one is a loss in my eyes!), but I felt these weren’t truly explored with conviction. Whether this is sci-fi, fantasy or pure literary whimsy, I wanted a deeper explanation.

Overall, this a great read with a unique premise that will keep you hooked until the very end.

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is out now from HQ Stories.

Image credit: HQ Stories

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