Book: The Book of Two Ways
Author: Jodi Picoult
Published By: Hodder and Stoughton
Publication Date: 20th October (oops!)
BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, honestly I didn’t keep track!
Content Warnings: Death, infidelity, fat shaming, mentions of cancer, hospice care, loss of a parent, plane crash, grief
Thank you to Netgalley UK and Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read this book early, it in no way affected my opinion of the book.
I’ve loved Jodi Picoult’s books for a long time, and I always eagerly anticipate her new releases, and this one was no exception, it sounded really cool with the whole Sliding Doors-esque premise and the Egyptology, I thought I would really love it. Sadly, I was left somewhat lukewarm by it, with an overload of technical information and not enough emotional connection to the characters. It felt like she tried to include too much, with Egypt, Dawn’s career as a death doula, the complex timelines, had she narrowed her focus, the book might have been better for it. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She’s on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband, but a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.
Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, her beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, where she helps ease the transition between life and death for patients in hospice.
But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a job she once studied for, but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.
After the crash landing, the airline ensures the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation wherever they want to go. The obvious option for Dawn is to continue down the path she is on and go home to her family. The other is to return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways–the first known map of the afterlife.
As the story unfolds, Dawn’s two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried beside them. Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly asked: What does a life well-lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices…or do our choices make us? And who would you be, if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?
My main issues with this book can be boiled down to two things: technical information, and our old friend PACING. The pacing in this book is super off, the chapters are FAR TOO LONG, between 30-40 pages in most cases which meant I kept having to leave off in the middle of chapters which is something I really hate doing. And even though the opening is super gripping, as soon as the story proper starts, it feels like we’ve kind of ground to halt for the first 200-300 pages before things finally start to pick up again. This meant that I was with it for almost two months which is a lot longer than I tend want to spend on one book.
The second part was the technical information. Now I appreciate that Jodi Picoult always does her research and that her books are super detailed on the topics they explore, but I feel like this time rather than integrating her research seamlessly into the plot like she usually does, there were a lot of infodumps of technical information that were only there to show how much she had learned about Egypt rather than adding anything to the plot. I appreciate you doing your research but if I don’t understand half of it, then it’s not really adding anything to the experience for me. I also could have done without all the Quantum physics stuff, it kind of bored me and again, I didn’t really feel like it added anything.
I feel like the blurb is kind of misleading? Without meaning to give away too much, the blurb makes it sound like a Sliding Doors sort of scenario, but it’s not really like that at all.
It’s very difficult to feel connected to a book when you don’t love the main character, and I have to admit, I found it hard to like Dawn. She basically destroys her whole family to follow a whim for a guy who was essentially a summer fling fifteen years ago, abandoning her husband and teenage daughter and cheating on her husband with this guy. I really don’t like infidelity as a plotline, so that made it even harder for me to root for Dawn, or for Wyatt as they both knowingly cheat on their partners and it’s portrayed as somehow okay because they loved each other first? NO. I felt super bad for Dawn’s husband Brian, because he seemed like a genuinely kind and supportive guy and she treated him awfully.
I wish there had been more focus on Dawn’s career as a death doula and less on the other stuff because I thought the parts between her and Win were some of the strongest of the book, and I’d never heard of death doulas before and found all that stuff really interesting. The parallels between her and Win were well done, and I really liked their whole dynamic.
I do usually find love triangles super predictable and that wasn’t the case here, I really couldn’t tell who Dawn would choose but at the same time, I really don’t think you should be able to have a love triangle when one of the parties is married to the other? I didn’t feel like Wyatt and Dawn’s relationship was developed enough that I felt like it had the potential to break up a fifteen year marriage! Also if she and Wyatt loved each other that much it seems ridiculous that they didn’t once try to find each other in fifteen years? It felt like a lot of her frustrations came down to her leaving Egyptology, but that was her choice? She could have taken a leave of absence when her mother died and gone back to Yale later, or transferred into a graduate program closer to home? Like I don’t really get why she gave it up altogether.
The timeline left me kind of confused, we switch between Egypt and Boston and the past and the present, but there are a lot of flashbacks within the chapters, so it was hard to keep track of whether we were in the past or the present at any one point within a chapter. I appreciate that Picoult tried to do something creative here, but I feel like her reverse timeline in A Spark of Light worked much better than what she tried to do here.
It felt like there were almost too many threads to the story, Egypt, death doulas, quantum physics etc, I think if Picoult had narrowed her focus a little more, the story would have been tighter and more enjoyable.
There’s a storyline with Dawn’s daughter Meret that shows her struggling with her weight, and I wasn’t a fan of some of the fat-shaming implications in that, it all felt like it was handled a little clumsily.
As with any Picoult books, there are of course twists, and I felt like the main one in this was super obvious? I worked it out like a hundred pages before it was revealed.
I feel like all the characters lacked a certain amount of depth, I could tell you who they were on a surface level, but I didn’t feel like we got to know them much beyond that.
I did however, enjoy Picoult’s writing style, as I always do.
The climax I felt was super rushed and not entirely realistic? I felt if there had been more time to explore the aftermath of Dawn’s decisions, then Brian and Meret would not have forgiven Dawn right away, it seemed like they should have been more mad at her. There were only 40 odd pages given to the conclusion of the book and I feel like had it been give more space, it would have been more satisfying. I also felt super frustrated by the ending because it kind of felt like cheating? Like we’ve been waiting the whole book for this moment and it never comes? WAS NOT HAPPY.
Overall, this book had potential but it just didn’t really live up to it, it was too stuffed with technical information and lacked character depth and emotional beats and I reckon had Picoult narrowed her focus and built up the characters more, it would have been a far more enjoyable novel.
My Rating: 3/5
My next review will be of my latest audiobook, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens.