Title: The Book of Two Ways
Author: Jodi Picoult
Published: September 23rd 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light returns with a thought-provoking and otherworldly new novel about the fates that we choose for ourselves and what happens when we have the chance to choose again.Dawn Edelstein knows everything there is to know about dying. She specialises in helping her clients make peace with the end of their lives. But as she’s flying home from her latest case, she is forced to confront her own mortality for the first time.
Instead of seeing her brilliant quantum physicist husband and their beloved daughter flash before her eyes in what she assumes are her last moments, only one face is shockingly clear: Wyatt Armstrong.
Safely on the ground, Dawn now faces a desperate decision. Should she return to Boston, her family and the life she knows, or journey back to an Egyptian archaeological site she left over a decade earlier, reconnect with Wyatt, and finally finish her abandoned magnum opus, The Book of Two Ways?
As the story unfolds, Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly answered: What does a life well-lived look like? When we depart this earth, what do we leave behind of ourselves? And who would you be if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?
‘Brian would roll his eyes at that and say it’s just the laws of physics splitting you into many different versions of yourself, each of which thinks that the path you’re on is unique and providential.
In one world, I’m in Boston.
In another world, I am with Wyatt when he opens that coffin and sees the Book of Two Ways.’
With almost thirty titles to her name, international bestselling author Jodi Picoult needs no introduction. The Book of Two Ways is Picoult’s latest and it is a grand piece of fiction. Tackling issues of life, love, death, destiny and choice, The Book of Two Ways is a rich piece of speculative fiction from an ambitious storyteller.
A story of the paths and decisions we make in life, The Book of Two Ways is a book that will stretch your mind and imagination. At the front and centre of this new story from Jodi Picoult is a woman named Dawn Edelstein. As a death doula, Dawn assists people in their last moments in this world, granting their personal wishes and helping them as they say goodbye. It is a confronting job, as Dawn consistently confronts issues of mortality. During the passage home after assisting one of her clients, Dawn is faced with a fast and harsh reality in relation to her own existence. As she plunges to possible death, Dawn sees a very different face to her husband and daughter flash before her, a lover named Wyatt. When Dawn returns home following this near death experience, her life is changed. Dawn must weigh up her options, either to remain in her old life in Boston, or travel back to Egypt to rekindle her student days with Wyatt. These prove to be tough life decisions and Dawn is faced with a difficult quest to reconcile her past movements with her future happiness.
A new Jodi Picoult novel is always a welcome sight to see. I was very keen to delve into Picoult’s latest, after reading plenty of teasers about this book in the author’s newsletter communications. I went into this book with plenty of gusto and high interest. However, I think I feel very conflicted with my response to The Book of Two Ways.
Opening with a dramatic plane crash ordeal, where our lead is faced with imminent death, was an eye opening approach to begin a novel. This shocking opener certainly reeled me in from the get-go. My heat raced as I read through these pivotal early sequences of The Book of Two Ways. I felt a great deal of fear for Dawn, the central protagonist of this tale. Immediately Jodi Picoult ignited a barrage of feelings around life and death. The plane based sequences were definitely the novel’s high points, it certainly moved me emotionally and allowed me to contemplate what I would envision if I was placed in Dawn’s shoes.
A significant portion of The Book of Two Ways is linked to Egypt, which follows some flashbacks to the past, as we backtrack to Dawn’s time as a student. This area of the novel was heavily researched, which is evidenced in the three page bibliography at the close of the book. While I appreciated the lengths Picoult went to in this area of her novel, aided by a first-hand trip to Egypt and consultation with specialists, I really felt bogged down in these areas of the book. However, if you have an appreciation for ancient Egypt, The Book of Two Ways will draw appeal, especially with the drawings that are inserted within the text. Picoult travels down some ambitious terrain in her new novel, pulling in ideas related to physics and philosophy. Although informative, I found this area of the novel to be weighty.
Love and relationship decisions seem to guide the way in The Book of Two Ways. We witness a passionate affair that flourishes in the past sequences involving the young Dawn and Wyatt in Egypt. On the flip side, we witness a very functional relationship between Dawn and her physicist husband Brian. With the interplay of Dawn’s daughter and family members, Picoult presents a complex relationship based drama. Picoult’s approach to her characters is filled with clarity and vision. I could not fault her approach in this area of her novel. However, I disagreed with Dawn’s choices and morals in regards to her relationship with Wyatt.
Most fascinating is the focus on death, brought about by Dawn’s unusual occupation as a death doula. I feel a bit ignorant not knowing about the existence of these workers. I have a great deal of respect for Dawn’s occupational choice. Assisting those to make informed personal choices and granting the wishes of palliative care patients would be incredibly hard. I know I wouldn’t have the strength to confront death and morality in the way that Dawn performs her work as a death doula. It was an interesting angle to take and it really showcases Picoult’s ability to think outside the box in regards to the direction of her writing.
Startling, unique and stimulating, but heavy on research, The Book of Two Ways is an insightful novel from a bold storyteller.
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult was published on 23rd September 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Book of Two Ways, Jodi Picoult, visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.