2018 Reviews · contemporary fiction · culture · thriller

Book Review: If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

Title: If I Die Before I Wakeif i die before i wake small

Author: Emily Koch

Published: January 2nd 2018

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 320

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Thriller

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars



Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.

My review:

Over time I have read and enjoyed a handful of books that focus on a narrator who is in a persistent vegetative state or coma. These novels have often focussed on a mystery which the reader, along with the narrator, must work to unlock. It makes for some fascinating reading fodder. If I Die Before I Wake, a book written by debut author Emily Koch, enters this territory.

Almost two years ago, Alex fell into a coma after a rock climbing accident. His family are now making the heartbreaking decision to turn off his life support, after tests have conclusively shown Alex is unresponsive. It has been an agonising time for his family, friends and girlfriend Bea. They are now coming to the conclusion that they need to move forward and let go of Alex. All the while, Alex can hear everything around him, including the conversations about his impending death. Alex doesn’t have the energy to communicate in a way that will make the doctors and his family pay attention. Recently, the police have been sniffing around Alex’s hospital room, seeking more answers to his accident. It appears Alex’s accident may have been a calculated murder and he must summon all the strength, via his working senses, to help solve the crime of who killed him. It is a race against time to ensure the perpetrator of Alex’s accident is apprehended before his family decides to make the final goodbye.

Emily Koch, the debut author of If I Die Before I Wake, has concocted a compelling scenario to feature in her first novel. I really enjoyed following a narrator who is floating in between life and death and is on a race against time to solve his own murder before his life support is removed. This is a really interesting situation and resulted in a read that I consumed very quickly from cover to cover.

This book unfolds via the first person point of view of Alex, a victim of a rock climbing accident, who is now in a persistent vegetative state. Sadly and frustratingly for Alex, his senses are still very active. Alex can see a little, hear a lot and smell. Since his tragic fall almost two years ago, Alex has remained unresponsive according to the doctors treating him. It is a strange situation, but Koch works well to help the reader get inside Alex’s inner thoughts and experiences. I was impressed by how much I learnt from Alex’s situation. Clearly Koch has spent a great deal of time getting to grips with the workings of coma patients. She presents her novel with great deal of insight and realism.

I connected to Alex’s voice quite easily and sympathised greatly with his plight. I felt for him when he mused on his regrets and the things he would never get to see, or achieve in his life. The whole situation was all very sad. Alex has a strong voice despite his weak predicament. The interactions that take place around Alex gives us a good glimpse into his character. These include his positive and negative experiences with hospital staff, such the different nurses and doctors that tend to him. We also witness Alex’s love for Bea, his girlfriend and his need to continue to protect her safety, despite his restrictive state. We also get a taste of his family relationships with his dad, sister and memories of his deceased mother crop up. Finally, Alex’s friends, such as climbing buddies Tom and Eleanor, as well as the recollections of his working life as a journalist all serve to give us a well rounded view of Alex. It allows us to see beyond Alex as simply a body lying in a hospital bed. Koch does a great job of this element of the novel.

I enjoyed the process of trying to work out, along with Alex, who was responsible for putting him to his death. There were some positive plot twists and surprising information that come to light as the book progressed. I found myself a little on edge with this book, as I became swept up in Alex’s fate and the events that resulted in his trauma. The final turn of events were satisfying and I felt a sense of calm wash over me as I closed the final page of this book.

A little confronting, but also very gripping all the same, I was lucky to whip through this one in a sitting. By reading it in one intense round, it served to heighten the tension around this novel. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how it would feel possessing such an active mind, in a lifeless body. Koch bridges this gap in an illuminating fashion, by giving us a glimpse of what this feeling of entrapment would be like. What I loved most about If I Die Before I Wake was the use of the male narrator who is a coma, but is grappling with the skills to help him feel heard. With an excellent sense of tension and a super mystery element attached, you can’t go wrong with If I Die Before I Wake.

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch was published on 2nd January 2018 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of If I Die Before I Wake, Emily Koch visit here




4 thoughts on “Book Review: If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

  1. Oooh. Respite in another genre coming up. Elizabeth Berg in her book of shorts, Life Stories, addresses this scenario – though it’s an accidental not criminal cause. Highly recommend her book. Especially for writers – she’s a POV genius.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Because it’s short stories the book is really easy. I got mine from the library in hard copy to study her style after listening to it on audio (also through the library – can I tempt you to download the BorrowBox app and listen as you walk, cook, clean, garden, etc?).

        Liked by 2 people

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