The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd

I would like to thank HQ for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – HQ

Published – Out Now

Price - £5.99 Kindle eBook

Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child od 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 named 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…

Do you remember the first time you realise you could have just died? For me it’s probably when I’m around 8 and after a tantrum with my parents I escaped through the front door and ran across the road; and a car braked just in front of me.  My first oh s*** moment. And in a quantum multiverse I wasn’t so lucky what would have happened if I wasn’t here to my family, my friends and so on? Alyson Rudd takes this idea and creates a compelling emotional tapestry of different timelines where people have to grapple with the consequences of life and death.

Lauren is a fairly typical kid in 70’s Cheshire; loves art; her family and friends and has just one strange ability.  She on occasions sees ‘beams’ shimmering shafts of reflective matter that when she looks through them, she sees a different world; variations of people she knows – but as she grows up, she forgets this. Then on her first ever holiday away from home a traffic accident breaks her neck. In one universe this leaves her devastated parents Bob and Vera trying to piece their lives together; in another Lauren awakes in hospital and is disconcerted that she seems to have different memories. The book then covers multiple timelines  - Lauren grows up to be an Art Student in 80’s London and finds love and a career; her father Bob in another universe suffers a second loss with the death of wife and has to find himself again and two further timelines develop as the story progresses. In some the US gets a right wing female president decades early; Mrs Thatcher never becomes PM and in another there are no such thing as cats but the key linking theme is every time Bob’s employer who was always a good friend to the family vanishes and Lauren always gets drawn to trying to solve this.

I really do like the concept and the way Rudd creates these alternate worlds.  I definitely recognise these aspects of Cheshire and Merseyside plus the feel of the 80’s. the various versions of Lauren e all encounter manage to keep the ‘core’ of her character but also show the way different experiences shape her life. The scenes where various characters have to deal with the Loss of Lauren really hurt and capture that theme of grief and moving on (or not) that pull you into seeing what happens to the characters. 

But I think I found it a curious mix of perhaps not fully exploring the concept and also breaking it. There is a whole section with Bob suffering the loss of Lauren and Vera that I found quite unsatisfying – partly as there is no reason for this concept of the universe splitting off and also it’s a very ‘middle class midlife crisis’ feel that I just don’t feel belongs to the main story. At the same time Lauren’s life only has a few life and death moments so we really seem to get a middle-class life versus a working-class motherhood. The focus on motherhood is quite a strong one in the novel and feels a bit limiting in terms of scope. The counterpoint of the constantly disappearing Peter Stanning is a sensible counterpoint, but the ultimate explanation never really works for me.

I will be fascinated to see how Rudd develops as an author as think their writing style and ideas are really standout but ultimately, I could not walk away fully satisfied with this novel.  It’s always good to see a literary look at an SF trope but it feels like it’s playing safe when it could have gone full throttle.  

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