Review of The Two Lives of Lydia Hill
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Josie Silver's lovely book is heartwarming and doesn't feel overly sentimental.
Lydia had planned to spend the rest of her life with her childhood sweetheart and fiance, Freddie, in their hometown of Shropshire, England. Now she's coming to terms with the recent and tragic loss of the person she loved and the future she had envisioned.
But a medication aimed to help her sleep during this difficult time induces an incredible side effect: when she sleeps after taking it, she exists in a dreamworld where Freddie is still alive. She can see him, smell him, and touch him. He is unaware that this is a second reality for Lydia and unaware of anything odd about this life, and Lydia must fight to not seem as though she is grieving him--this is made easier by how real he seems in this other timeline.
At the same time that Lydia is actively living life in her everyday sad reality in which Freddie is gone, she is also seemingly simultaneously living in this dreamworld track of her life alongside Freddie, making decisions, keeping social engagements, fondly fake-remembering her own wedding (an event which in her daylight reality never occurred), and trying to catch up and keep track of the details she's supposed to know.
In this alternate sleep reality, life continues branching off from the daytime life in which Freddie is gone; her sleeping life involves its own joys, tragedies, and increasingly complicated set of circumstances that show her realistically plausible challenges and crossroads in the couple's career tracks, senses of responsibility, and paths toward happiness.
Meanwhile in daytime reality, Jonah, who was originally Lydia's beloved childhood friend and became Freddie's best friend, is beset by guilt over the circumstances surrounding Freddie's death. He and Lydia try to find their way back to a friendship, a track that is not without hiccups, their own sometimes conflicting paths to coping with their grief, and their complicated feelings about what life and love might look like now. A loyal sister and mother, work friends, and other stand-up characters help round out the story.
Josie Silver's lovely book is heartwarming and doesn't feel overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative. The characters' feelings of anger, crushing grief, and hope feel real in both realities she's created. There's joy, and there's sadness, and there are messy routes toward forgiveness and cautious optimism.
I love an alternate reality story line, and Silver handles this one deftly in The Two Lives of Lydia Byrd; Lydia is suitably frazzled trying to keep track of multiple life tracks and the mix of challenge and happiness in each.
I listened to the audiobook, and I really liked Olivia Vinall's narration.
What did you think?
Silver also wrote One Day in December, which looks like it plays with the idea of "what could have been" in a missed-chances setup that I like the sound of.