Monday, 4 September 2017

Book Review: IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE by Emily Koch

Author: Emily Koch
Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
September 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Book Description (Goodreads):

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 musings:

I know that this book is not going to be published until January. Plus, I have plenty of books on my reading list that I should be reading first. But I felt like I just needed something a bit different, something that stood out from the fray– what would fit the bill better than a mystery told from the POV of a character in a permanent vegetative state, his active mind trapped in a lifeless body and unable to communicate? I just couldn’t resist!

Alex is in a coma, unable to move his body, eat, speak, or even move his eyes.  Two years after a terrible climbing accident, the doctors have long given up on him ever regaining any function and have been unable to prove that Alex is even aware of his surroundings. Pneumonia has almost claimed his life several times, but still Alex clings on to the small hope that one day he can return to his old life, his girlfriend, his family. Lying helpless in bed, totally at the mercy of others, he overhears his visitors talking about the incident that has cost him his life as he knew it, but as hard as he tries to think back, he cannot remember anything. Hearing that the police are investigating his accident as a possible attempted murder, Alex is determined to find out what happened – if it’s the last thing he will ever do.

I really loved the premise of If I Die Before I Wake, which was both original and captivating. Imagining what it must feel like for our main character, Alex, trapped in his own body unable to communicate even his most basic needs or pain, created an almost unbearable tension. His frustration over his helplessness was highlighted by the many scenes in which he had to endure pain or suffering, simply because of being locked into his lifeless body. It was horrible to imagine what this must be like! The mystery element is well thought out and kept my attention, and it was interesting how slowly but surely all the pieces of the puzzle came together in Alex’s mind. The interpersonal relationships were sensitively drawn – the nurses, the doctors, Alex’s girlfriend and family – and made for some touching and some infuriating moments.

The main issue I had with the book was the pacing. Whilst Alex’s predicament made for an original plotline, it also slowed down the story quite significantly in places, whilst the reader follows his long internal dialogue and his daily frustrations. It reminded me a bit of Tom Hanks’ epic movie Castaway, where a marooned Chuck Noland only has his volleyball to talk to – which, to be fair, is very original, but wore a bit thin after a while. Parts of the story dragged a bit for me, and I would have liked to have a different element introduced, a different POV perhaps, just to move the story along and shed light on some other aspects of the investigation Alex was not privy to. Some threads didn’t seem to go anywhere, like the scene where Alex’s catheter “fell out”, which made me wonder if I had missed something? Because of this, I struggled at times to fully connect to Alex, hoping for things to move along a bit faster than they did. 


All in all, If I Die Before I Wake was a very original mystery written from the POV from the most unlikely character – a man trapped inside his lifeless body, surely one of the most terrible situations a person could find themselves in. Koch explores this topic with sensitivity and insight, realistically portraying the frustrations of her helpless character as he strives to find out the truth. Whilst the pacing was a bit slow for me at times, the story certainly made up for it in originality. One of the most unusual mysteries I have read this year.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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