I figured it would be best to start this blog with the most recent book I’ve read, which would be the supremely interesting The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.
This New York Times bestseller tells the story of Eddie, a maintenance man for a theme park on ‘Ruby Pier’. After being killed in an accident at the age of 83 (and still working!), Eddie is taken to heaven, where he meets a series of people attempting to explain the meaning of [his] life. The five people he meets there seem incidental to him at first, but he soon discovers that he has influenced all of these lives in some way or other, and they begin to explain the importance of existence despite his being an embittered war veteran and widower.
This novel was one which grasped me from the very beginning, even from the very first chapter, which is entitled ‘The End’. It piques one’s interest when you are at the beginning of a novel and there is already talk of an ending, but the speaker addresses this directly, talking of how this chapter is a documentation of the last few hours of our protagonist’s life.
Eddie’s life ends trying to save the life of a little girl; one who is about to be crushed by the path of a fallen roller coaster cart: the same one which ends Eddie’s own life. The last thing Eddie feels are two hands grasping his own before he is taken to the first ‘stage’ he must encounter in heaven.
Much like the concept of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, heaven in this novel is different to every person in existence there, though people are able to enter other people’s heavens, particularly on their first visitation, where everybody must undergo the encounters with five different people linking to their life.
The first place Eddie finds himself is Ruby Pier- the place where he has worked all his life- looking as it did when he was a boy. This confuses him, as he claims he would never consider his workplace to be his ‘heaven’, being the place he spent his entire life attempting to escape from, only to end up back there. Eddie meets somebody here he is only vaguely familiar with- a blue-skinned man from the ‘freak show’ running in his childhood. It is he who tells Eddie that this is not Eddie’s heaven, but his own, and explains why Eddie is there.
The novel continues on in this manner, with Eddie meeting five different people his life has affected: some previously inconspicuous people such as the blue-skinned man he encounters; other integral role models to becoming the man he was when he died. Each one of them exhibits a highly calm and peaceful attitude toward death- and forgiveness- and explain the way in which all lives on this planet are connected, even inconspicuously.
The novel experiments with a thought-provoking alternate to ‘conventional’ heaven, disregarding religion. However, it is not this which is its main interesting characteristic, but the way in which it makes the reader think about the connections and choices made in their life. It presents a view that everything is consequential, even the slightest movement, yet we cannot allow ourselves to become over-ridden with guilt even over the big mistakes we make. We must only seek to forgive ourselves, and others.
Albom has presented the reader with a brilliant protagonist in The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
Eddie’s emotional range through what we see in his life span goes from romantic teen, to brave soldier, caring brother and to a bitter old man. Eddie’s conscience plays on that which is identifiable to the reader: mistakes made; love lost; the urge for escape. It is this that in such an ethereal novel, keeps it ‘real’ and exhibits how emotionally ‘in-touch’ an author can be with his readers.
All in all, the novel is an emotionally-stirring, thought-provoking read. It took me only a couple of hours to read it as I couldn’t put it down, and I suggest others invest some time in it too!