Sometimes, not very often, I read a novel that creates a physical ache as I put it down. It doesn’t matter at what point I am in the book – a few pages in, halfway through or even on the last page – the very act of having to stop reading perpetuates the feeling of emptiness when you are no longer devouring the words on the page. I am of the opinion that if an author can get me to feel that whilst I’m reading their story and this feeling lingers even after I have completed it, then this is a well-written, involving, wonderful book.
Today I have experienced this. Last night I started reading Lauren Oliver’s novel Before I Fall. I was captivated, at first by the concept, then by the language and finally by the overwhelming sense that I just had to know what happened to Sam Kingston. Firstly, the idea that you can relive y our last day, desperately trying to make your life meaningful after the fact, is wonderfully reassuring: suggesting that perhaps we all get a similar chance and there is hope after all.
“Here’s another thing to remember: hope keeps you alive. Even when you’re dead it’s the only thing that keeps you alive.” Before I Fall , p100
And the language; I actually stopped reading just to voice two or three sentences to my partner in the room because I felt they were just brilliant.
“The sky is perfect, pale blue. The sun has just risen, weak and watery-looking, like it has just spilled itself over the horizon and is too lazy to clean itself up,” Before I Fall, p8
That image, of the sun spilling itself and being too lazy to clean itself up, is a sentence I wish I wrote myself. It’s genius.
It took me three hours of reading last night and then two more this morning to finish reading this book. Five hours to read a 400 page book. And now that I’m done I want more. I want to live further into this novel and see what happens next – understand what it is that happened to Sam and to all of the friends and people she tried to save. So much so that I might just have to re-read it just so that I can fill the empty void in my mind that Oliver’s words so recently filled.
I love books like this. Not only does it make me feel like there is only a thin veil between the world that I live in and the world in someone else’s imagination but it inspires me to want to be a writer even more. I aspire to be a writer like this. To write words with such simplicity and meaning that they settle in the mind of a reader like snowflakes on the first day of winter: they might not last for long, but eventually the word-snowflakes build up and create a blanket that cocoons you, comforting and blinding you in the brightness of it all at once. Then, time doesn’t matter because you are lost in the landscape of fiction and suddenly it’s the real world, the actual one where you are reading a book, that appears to be the dream because you are so drawn into the story that is unfolding in your mind, created for you by someone you haven’t even met, that you can’t imagine any other reality.
If magic exists, for me, it lives in books like this one.