I’m going to say it straight up. If you loved Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife or Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, it’s entirely likely that you’ll also like Meet Me in Another Life. I love all three of them.
Silvey’s novel has some similarities to the mechanisms used in both the other aforementioned novels, but also manages to have a completely unique take on the ‘timeywimey’ SF aspects of the plot. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain just a little.
The novel is set in contemporary Cologne, and Thora Lišková meets Santiago López Romero at an international student’s party in the old town when they both leave. Walking, they come to the old clocktower and Santi suggests climbing it so they can see the stars better.
‘I’m not climbing a half-ruined tower with you! I don’t even know you.’
He is already crossing the grass. ‘How well can you ever really know someone.’
‘Better than this,’ she says, catching up with him.
‘Really?’ he says. ‘I think we are all forever a mystery to each other.’
Thora and Santi are complete opposites. He is somewhat of a fatalist, he has faith in God and his plans; she is bi and definitely doesn’t believe in God, she’d be Santi’s best friend though if she can. They both share a vision of life among the stars though. The question is will either achieve it. But before they have a chance to make contact again, Santi dies – he falls from the clocktower. Thora only finds out when she sees an announcement on the noticeboard at the uni. Everyone is saying he jumped, she’s the only one who thinks he didn’t. Her reaction is to spray a message on the tower ‘WELCOME TO FOREVER’.
In chapter two, we meet Thora and Santi again. But this time he’s Santi’s science teacher and she is just seven-years-old. He thus has just a few years as her mentor before she moves on to a new school. A new chapter beckons and a new life: this time Thora and Santi are post-grads and this time they get it together and have a daughter Estela, but Santi dies of cancer.
Each chapter brings a new variation on the relationship between the two. Father and daughter, twins – brother and sister, Professor to Santi’s grad-student, Doctor and patient and so on. Each time they start afresh. Sometimes Santi has a partner Heloise, often Thora has a girlfriend, Jules. There are a few other characters that crop up across several lifetimes such as Birgitta, the waitress in the bar Thora goes to, and Félicette, Santi’s cat, they are all woven into the narrative very cleverly. Each time, they feel they know each other, but know they can’t. More messages get sprayed on the clocktower, which is a constant in each life. They finally reach a point however, where they realise that whatever the circumstances of the life that they’re living, they do know each other. There are clues carefully threaded into the narrative that built up as I read on.
I can’t possibly say any more, except to expect something really different to happen, for the narrative to move towards the realm of SF – this book is published by Harper’s Voyager SF imprint after all. Are all these lives in parallel universes? Or are they sequential? It is to Silvey’s credit that she comes up with a solution so different that I was full of admiration as to how she concludes the story of Thora and Santi. It was fascinating to read each of the relationship combinations, comparing and contrasting all the way through, and sighing each time either of them died in a life. You can’t help but fall for both Thora and Santi, their relationship of opposites is full of warmth and real love, be it platonic or romantic, but they do have their arguments too. Their personalities don’t change though, Silvey maintains them throughout.
I really, really enjoyed this novel. Apart from being a cracking good read, and a super SF book for people who don’t really read SF, it’s thought-provoking and would surely prompt a great discussion for book groups. Highly recommended.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey (Harper Voyager, 2021) hardback, 310 pages.
BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)