One of the things that usually draws me to a book is the voice of the narrator or lead character/s. Sometimes it’s through the story they’re telling or the dialogue or just the way they describe the world around them.
This debut novel by Emily Koch unfolds from the point of view from a man lying in a hospital bed in a coma. It’s interesting because we only get ‘some’ of the information we want or need – which I guess means we very much understand what Alex is going through… privy to only that part of the world to which he’s now exposed. In moments of clarity.
If I Die Before I Wake
by Emily Koch
Published by Harvill Secker
on January 11th 2018
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1911215485, 9781911215486
Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.
But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.
As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.
My dad didn’t ‘wake’ during his final six days in palliative care. He had already lost a lot of weight and kinda wasted away before our eyes as the only thing he was fed was morphine. To ease him into the afterlife I guess.
I didn’t quite know how to explain his status and we didn’t really talk to any doctors about it as we all knew what was coming. Was he unconscious? Was he in a coma? I don’t know. But we talked to him constantly. And I refused to use the ‘d’ word around him. He was dying. We knew it, but… I wasn’t sure I wanted him to be conscious of that fact.
So I don’t know what he was aware of as the end became nigh. But I like to think the familiarity of our voices and conversations offered some comfort.
All of which I guess influenced my reaction to this book. I liked the idea that Alex was lying in his coma TRYING to make himself heard or understood, or at least thinking there was still hope.
We actually only join him after he’s been in his coma for two years as he reflects back on how his own outlook has changed.
It seems his early memories – after his accident – were murky. But he slowly became increasingly aware of the conversations of those around him. He ponders them and almost participates in his own way. And he’s now privy to the thoughts, feelings and discussions that usually only take place in private.
Initially he just wants to die. He believes he’s a burden and has little to live for… he yearns to have his life end. And yet – we later learn he battles through pneumonia and (unconsciously – literally) continues to fight. It’s not until he discovers his fall may not have been accidental and worries his beloved girlfriend may be at risk that he starts to try to claw his way back to consciousness again, wanting to protect her and learn what happened to him.
Finally the injustice of his circumstances hit home. And they’re confronting to we readers. I’ve often shared those wanky quotes you usually see on social media, about ‘living for today’ and not putting stuff off though tend to simultaneously eyeroll. But when we’re hearing them from a 30yr old man lying in a coma who may – or may not – live, it hits home.
He contemplates the things he wanted to do and weighs them against the things he has. But most of all he considers the concept of fate. And he thinks perhaps he’s got exactly what he deserved… that he’s being punished for past wrongs.
I read this book in a sitting and became concerned about Alex’s fate. I wasn’t convinced there was going to be a happily ever after, but wasn’t sure what I’d settle for. What would offer me some closure and not destroy me completely?
This is a great debut by Koch and I look forward to reading more from the Bristol-based author.
If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch will be published in Australia by Penguin Australia in early-mid January 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.