There are a whole lot of things to unpack in this book; I feel like I’ve come home from holiday and the case has exploded open on the bed. Books and memories and clothes falling out and there’s Egyptian sand through everything. Here is a great novel for chatty book clubs — but perhaps not recommended if you have judgemental grumps (like me).
The Egypt thing first — it’s magnificent. A great setting for a book, we see writing on the walls and dip in and out of caves and uncover stories thousands of years old. Picoult’s son is an Egyptologist and I bet the pair of them had some great mother/son talks on the original, ancient “Book of Two Ways”. Feels compellingly authentic and pretty wonderful. A simple story in situ would have been perfect.
But there are lots of side-stories here, linked together under the theme of life choices. We start with a plane crash where our protagonist Dawn, a middle aged woman with regrets, has her “life flash before her eyes”. Unfortunately, the timeline jumps about so this extraordinary event loses its drama and becomes just a device to shock Dawn into rethinking a past choice. Or did that happen before the crash? It’s confusing. Hell, I wish authors would just keep the bloody narrative in order.
So there’s a plane crash, sometime. And along come the life choices. On one hand Dawn has an ex-lover, on the other a husband of fifteen years together with their fifteen-year-old daughter (no surprises as to the surprise there). She has given up a career as a budding Egyptologist on the brink of a fabulous discovery for a less exciting life with a family and career as a “death doula”. Her dying client regrets a choice with a past lover and wonders “what if?”, a mirror of Dawn’s own dilemma. But wait, there’s more, because hubby, bless him, is an expert in quantum mechanics (really!) and his parallel universes mean Dawn is actually living all the choices she could ever have made in another life. She’s just not feeling the strong arms of ex-lover, wait for it —Wyatt Armstrong— wrapped around her in this one. Wyatt is a marquess. That’s irrelevent to the story but the book will now pop up in a search for “books about marquesses.”
So far, so good. I feel her regret at losing the cool career because of other responsibilities. And who hasn’t thought wistfully about a past fling with an aristocrat in Egypt and wondered “what if?”. But Dawn, because of the life flashing-before-her-eyes business, goes to find Wyatt, who is an absolute jerk but apparently also irresistibly hunky. The timeline doesn’t help, we skip from jerk to hunk so fast he never progresses beyond jerk for me. It’s that old cliché: she hates him, she hates him, she hates him. Oh, swoon! She loves him.
Dawn must choose now between exciting and hunky Armstrong and dependable old Brian. Both of whom still want her. Brian’s a good guy. He’s intelligent, considerate and gentle: Then he pulls me into his arms. “I know you by heart. I can put you back together.” Let’s root for Brian right? He’s also a great dad, and a bit hunky himself, as evidenced by the fact that a student fancies him – something that throws Dawn into a hissy fit although Brian adamantly does not encourage the pass. Why so upset, two-timing Dawn? Perhaps this is meant to signal Brian also has a life choice (if so, it’s not much of one). There’s the daughter too, a smart kid with serious weight issues and self-esteem problems — not sure what this adds to the story except add heft to the Brian side of the equation. If you are reading this for book club, change the story and make a man go off to find his ex-girlfriend while keeping his wife on hold and see how it reads.
In The Book of Two Ways, Dawn brings the two men face-to-face and makes her choice.
What follows, dear reader, is the worst ending ever written. Absolutely terrible. Am I right?