book review: The Heavens by Sandra Newman

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THE HEAVENS by Sandra Newman
★★★☆☆
Grove Atlantic, February 12, 2019

The Heavens is essentially Sandra Newman’s novelized meditation on the Great Man Theory – the idea that history has been shaped by a few influential individuals. Kate, a young woman living in New York City in the early 2000s, believes she’s one such person, as she has dreams which propel her into a past timeline where she lives as a mistress in Elizabethan England. When she wakes up, she begins to notice that details about her life have changed overnight, and as she becomes increasingly convinced that her dreams are affecting her reality, her boyfriend Ben becomes concerned about her mental health.

It’s particularly difficult to talk about the plot of this book when it’s ever-shifting. At the start of the novel Kate and Ben live in a New York that resembles our own, except that we aren’t at war and we’ve elected a green party president named Chen, until one day she wakes up and is informed by her concerned friends that Gore is president, and has been president all along, doesn’t she remember? Newman excels at playing with this inherently tenuous atmosphere; whether it’s Kate’s mental stability or the fabric of the universe that’s really on the verge of collapse, there’s a palpable fragility at play while you turn these pages, never sure which details are going to shift from one page to the next.

But despite its clever construction, this doesn’t completely work from start to finish. Kate’s dream narrative is noticeably weaker than that of the present, and the depiction of 1590s England feels almost caricaturish. It also plays with many different lofty ideas and doesn’t always follow through with seamless execution; certain plot threads feel abandoned and under-examined, and I thought the resolution undermined a lot of what came before it. But, I haven’t completely made up my mind about this book and I’m sure to be mulling it over for days to come, so I’m very curious to see how others will receive this wildly unconventional tale of love and fate and time travel.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

You can pick up a copy of The Heavens here on Book Depository.