Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Mark Holmes - The Absent After-Life

The Gods have made a disturbing discovery - Earth is missing its Heaven. They send two of their own mortals to rectify the situation.
The two mortals from another world (Bartholomew and Hector) set up a meeting with selected individauls from Earth to help them with their mission- though the meeting's true purpose isn't revealed.
We meet a local journalist - Jane - who's life is blighted by a horrific attack she suffered as a teenager. Des, is a lcoal cafe owner, but he too has a secret, a dark one from his school days. The final attendee at the meeting is Alistair, the local vicar, who seems to have a daily fight with apathy.
They all meet up one afternoon - but the meeting doesn't go the way Bartholomew and Hector intended...

Comment: One of the most interesting things to do if one likes books is, besides reading them, browsing and investigate them. While doing this at some point, I must have seen something this book that was appealing but I can't remember what anymore. After several years in the TBR I finally got to it.

In this book, the author embarks on a tale about what it would be like if, by some technical issue, there was no Heaven for Earth. The heavenly authorities catch the error and decide to send two emissaries - Bartholomew and Hector - to investigate what humans would want to see in their heaven and then it would be possible to create an environment which would suit them. However, upon reaching Earth, everything is confusing so when the three humans chosen to be interviewed end up being an amazing source of information, the two emissaries are delighted. Sadly, a mistake on their part has terrible consequences... will it be possible to create a doable heaven after all? 

This is clearly a fantasy story where, I think, the author wanted to include all his point of view on what is considered good and bad in humans and he summarized it for this book. In my opinion, the result was a little too confusing and to be honest, there were moments I felt the story just didn't have enough structure to make me eager to follow what was going on. I confess I skimmed a few chapters.

The idea of this book is quite interesting and for fans of fantasy this is quite appealing. I can also think of one or two titles by other authors which are similar enough so that a new reader might have an idea on what to expect, but I feel bad by saying the author's writing style didn't appeal to me. To me, the story had an excess of elements which aren't important and distract from the beauty of the book, which I think is the reason why the three humans chosen to talk with the heaven guys. The three, Jane, Alistair and Des have enough personality to make them unique and a sort of symbol of humans but the writing makes it hard to focus on them.

The book is divided into two parts: first, while the heaven guys are dealing with the setting up of the interviews and we get the background on the humans, and the second part when the interview and its consequences happen. Simple but sadly there's so much pointless information that it was a struggle to get part that and focus on the elements that did matter. For instance, the amount of talk about where the emissaries go, how their family lives are, what they see as funny or not... this isn't given to the reader in a very fluid manner and I started to be annoyed at having to go through this information when it didn't even have any importance in the big scheme of things.

Having finished the book, though, I can say I feel the first part of the story could have been reduced to a chapter or two and that would have been enough. The really interesting part, including some philosophical content and any kind of reflection one would do on the meaning of life and how small things can have big impacts, all has more interest in the second part. While I can understand the author had an idea in his head and he probably planned several things around that, I don't feel the execution showed smoothness of thought and too many elements gave the story a cluttered feel.

The two emissaries seem to have been done to be both wise and funny, even among the confusion of heaven hierarchy and how absurdly technical it aimed to look like. I didn't find their adventures nor thoughts nor conclusions to be funny. I got the feeling this was attempted so forcibly that the result was the opposite. Then, the humans had different personalities and backgrounds and experiences but in the end their thoughts on heaven were different too. It was all a little... predictable, in some aspects.

Since the three humans were there to play a part, I managed to maintain the emotional distance from them. Even the moments where they shared heavy thoughts or issues, it felt the characterization wasn't the goal, just how they might embody an idea, a problem... I would say that, if the goal was for this to be a funny but heartwarming fantasy, those elements weren't well done, and if this was meant to be a touch on the idea of spirituality or of what would entail if Heaven did exist, the fantasy elements made this into something a little...silly.

All considered, this story had a great base, I could see where the author might have wanted to go but the result wasn't engaging and sadly, I don't see myself wanting to re-read this one.
Grade: 5/10

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