Book Review

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley

Because there’s never enough time to say goodbye…

Sylvia knows that 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…


What a wonderful novel this is!  I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it to be a surprisingly uplifting read despite some of the unhappier elements to the story.

For When I’m Gone alternatives between Then, Now, and Sylvia’s Manual.  “Then” deals with how Sylvia and Paul first meet and takes us through the ups and downs of their life together as they begin their relationship, marry, and have children.  It’s clear from the beginning that these are two very different characters, but I love the contrast between them and felt that they were a well-balanced couple.  I became completely invested in their lives as I got to know more about them and found that Ley perfectly captured the highs and inevitable lows of these two characters and their life together.  It’s an emotional tale even without knowing the outcome for Sylvia, and I challenge anyone not to fall in love with them.

The “Now” chapters cover the events following Sylvia’s death as Paul has to come to terms with his grief and yet also keep going for the sake of their children, Megan and Jude.  There’s the initial period of chaos as Paul struggles to cope and to keep it together, as well as the longer period of adapting to Sylvia’s absence.  I like the observation that Paul never fully appreciated how much work is involved in maintaining house and home, with all the little domestic chores that Sylvia willingly took on taken for granted by Paul until they fall to him to complete.  It’s difficult to capture the minutiae of life in this way without it becoming monotonous, but it’s a situation that I think that many can relate to, and it’s included in the narrative in such a way that it remains interesting and adds to the story. 

“Sylvia’s Manual” gives the reader more insight into Sylvia – both her character and her state of mind in her final days and weeks.  It’s intended as a practical guide for Paul, with clear instructions on what to do and how to cope without her and all of the little things that he’ll need to think about to keep things running smoothly for their family.  But it becomes more than that – it’s an opportunity to say the things that she needs to say and takes on a confessional tone at times.  It is tremendously sad, despite the very matter of fact tone in which it’s written, and I couldn’t help but admire the way in which Sylvia proves so astute in anticipating Paul’s behaviour following her death. 

For When I’m Gone is a wonderful novel and one that proved to be more uplifting than I was expecting.  There are parts that are sad as we observe Sylvia as a vibrant character who is full of life brought low by her illness, but this is a novel that ultimately celebrates life and all of the madness that it entails. It tackles the sometimes difficult relationship between mothers and daughters and highlights the importance of family in our lives.  A glorious debut, and highly recommended.

For When I’m Gone is published by Orion and is available in all the usual formats now.  Many thanks to the publisher and to Virginia Woolstencroft for providing a copy for review.

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