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…
Perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson and Maggie O’Farrell, The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is a book about loss, grief – and how, despite it not always feeling that way, every ending marks the start of something new.
What a great novel this is! The reader first meets Lauren Pailing in the 1970s when she is eight years old. She comes across as a sweet child, albeit one who is a little unusual. In the right circumstances, she is able to glimpse other realities – some similar to her own, others less so. She doesn’t fully understand significance of this, but she quickly learns that this is something that is unique to her, and this sets her apart from those around her as she learns to keep it a secret. The reader sees her grow into a teenager, developing her first crush etc. before she is involved in a tragic accident that cuts her life short. Rather than being the end, Lauren than slips into one of those other realities that she has observed – one in which she is involved in an accident, but survives. This new life is subtly different to the old one, and she must quickly learn to accept the differences and to adapt to this new life without focussing on what has changed.
Each time Lauren dies, she leaves behind the family and friends who knew and loved her, and rather than just following Lauren and those in her current life, the reader also gets to see how life continues for those she leaves behind. We see her parents struggling to cope with the death of their teenage daughter, and the way their lives are changed irrevocably. I loved seeing how the lives of those closest to Lauren were changed by her death, and what they went on to do, and I thought that it was cleverly done. It sounds confusing, but it wasn’t difficult to keep track of each narrative, and there was no risk of mixing up the characters – or the different versions of the characters – at any point. It was interesting to see how the different characters coped with their grief – some better than others, it has to be said – and the direction their lives took as a result. By the end of the novel, each is in a very different place in the different worlds that Lauren has lived in.
Rudd also shows how Lauren herself copes with her different lives and the various memories she has which don’t always match the reality that she is in, and it becomes increasingly difficult for her to cope with the changes. Each of these worlds has some differences to the others, some of which are more subtle than others. In one, Britain never had a female prime minister, in another there are, somewhat bizarrely, no cats. The few common threads throughout Lauren’s lives are her art – she has always been a skilled artist, even as a child – and while this skill is used differently throughout, it is a constant. Another common thread is the disappearance of her father’s boss, Peter Stanning. He disappears in every version of Lauren’s life, and in each life she becomes increasingly interested in his disappearance as it goes unexplained for years. This is wrapped up neatly by the end of the novel, and I liked how the seemingly innocuous details mentioned earlier on become more relevant in this mystery.
The First Time Lauren Pailing Died is a fantastic novel that I would recommend to those interested in the idea of alternative realities, and those that enjoyed novels such as Life After Life and films such as Sliding Doors. It explores themes of family, grief, and the impact that the loss of a loved one can have, and it’s brilliantly done without being too hard going. This is another novel that may well make it into to my (ever growing!) top reads of the year, and one that I highly recommend.