The Heavens is the kind of book that gets under your skin only if you allow it to. In the sense that you have to be prepared for it, read it slowly, take in what Newman has to offer, and then be enthralled by its worlds, characters, and their lives. I don’t even know how to categorize this book – what does one call it? Historical fiction? Contemporary? Fantasy? Come to think of it, I shall not call it anything but a novel that will charm, beguile, and leave you a little bit breathless.
I hadn’t realized Sandra Newman had written more books before reading this one. So, long story short: The Heavens is about the power of dreams and what they can do to your world. It is the year 2000. Ben (Debendranath – yes, read the book to find out more) meets Kate and they fall in love. Kate loves love. Ben loves Kate.
Then there is the question of Kate’s dreams that she’s been having since childhood. The dreams where she lives a second life as Emilia – the mistress of a nobleman in Elizabethan England. But what happens when dreams impact reality? Kate begins to understand that her actions in her dreams alter her reality on waking up. Incidents that she doesn’t remember anymore, people she hasn’t heard of, neighbourhoods that have sprung up on their own, and something more is at play which she has to stop, or so she thinks.
In all of this is Ben – always wondering what’s going on with his partner. From a family with its own demons, all he wants is a simple life, and tries very hard to understand Kate and her second life as Emilia. And but of course you have to read the book to find out what happens next – what occurs and what doesn’t. In all of this, Newman introduces their friends – Sabine – free-spirited, gossipy, and absolutely silly (at least to me), Oksana (you just have to read about her), Martin, and José to name a few. The reason I speak of them is they are as integral to the story as Ben and Kate.
Newman’s writing reminded me of Alain de Botton’s style to begin with, till I got used to her voice and it was only her writing that mattered. Her prose strikes you in so many places – the struggle of Kate and whether or not she is losing her mind. Newman makes you believe in both worlds equally – in both characters – Kate and Emilia. Not for once did they strike me as the same person, till of course dreams and reality merged.
There is also a surprise element of who she meets in the year of the plague in England. The technicalities of time travel are spot-on – they never bog you down as a reader. In fact, you want to know more about that era and what transpired. What I loved the most is that Newman gets to the point. There is brevity in its 272 pages and no rambling at all.
The Heavens could also not be for all. It worked for me on several levels – of love, friendship, dreams, and what may come in the future. But it may not work for you if you are the sort of reader who wants to find meaning and purpose in everything you read. Sandra Newman is one author whose works I will be devouring a lot more.
The first words I heard describing this book belonged to Resh Susan (@thebooksatchel) calling it a ‘literary fairy-tale.’
Combine that with an ABSOLUTELY STUNNING cover and a very interesting synopsis filled with love and time travel, I dove into this book almost as soon as I ripped open the package that contained it.
Looking back on this book I finished over a week ago, I only have one word that also doubles as a feeling to describe it - STRANGE. There were a lot of things I liked and a lot I didn’t like and I’ll go more into it below:
THINGS I LIKED:
1. THE WRITING: Reading Sandra Newman’s writing in The Heavens was a different experience. She had this unique ability to put words to emotions and experiences that, when you think about it, seem so natural. She also brought out relationships, the experience of new love and the struggle to stay in love and it was a really interesting read.
2. THE COVER: I know I’ve started saying this a lot, but The Heavens has a truly STUNNING cover. It’s the kind of book you’ll lovingly display on your shelf.
3. I quite how this contemporary book handled the consequences of time travel, even if the constant changes and Kate’s whining/ guilt got tedious and repetitive at times.
THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE:
1. I’m a practical person by nature, and I simply couldn’t wrap my head around Kate’s… whimsical nature. I can’t quite describe what she was like without spoiling things in the book but suffice it to say that I did not enjoy her.
2. Kate was still a minor blip, but the story unfolding in the past with ‘Sad Will’ and the lord Kate/ Amelia had to service so that he could keep his pride was just too much for me. I honestly sped read through the pages that didn’t involve Kate and Ben in present times because it was all too strange. JUST. TOO. STRANGE.
Would I recommend this book? The Heavens could have been better in my mind. However, the writing was just wonderful and if you’re looking for something unique, The Heavens should be your next read.