THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. Will warn again when they appear.
Wish You Were Here
Ballantine Books (US: 30th November 2021); Hodder & Stoughton (UK: 25th November 2021); Random House Canada (CA: 30th November 2021); Allen & Unwin (AU: 25th November 2021)
US Kindle Edition US Hardcover UK Kindle Edition CA Kindle Edition Worldwide Hardcover Worldwide Paperback
There’s an early sign that this is not up to the author’s usual high quality writing: A character of Japanese ethnicity was married to an English musician who was shot dead. Too obviously inspired by Yoko Ono and John Lennon. This is lazy writing, and even secondary characters don’t deserve that. I like Kitomi, but still… I expect more from Jodi Picoult.
It’s not a spoiler to say that this novel was inspired by, written, and published during the Covid-19 pandemic. The real life event plays a pretty major part of the story, and is mentioned in all the summaries and promo material: an American tourist is stranded in the Galápagos Islands during the pandemic.
There’s a twist, however. And the twist just happens to be one of the laziest plot devices that you’d yell at if writers resorted to it in a TV show or film:
IT WAS ALL JUST A DREAM.
The pandemic is very much still real in the book. But Diana O’Toole is NOT on the island of Isabela – she’s in the USA the entire time. She never went on the holiday, never met the people she thought she’d met, never did the things she’d thought she’d done there. IT WAS ALL JUST A DREAM.
The author explains interviewing people who were Covid patients on ventilators. She was fascinated by their lucid dreams that seemed more real than their actual lives. I get that. I don’t doubt their experiences. I trust the author’s research. And yes, it’s an interesting phenomenon that would be perfectly explored…in non-fiction. Not here. Just because something happens in real life, that doesn’t make it the right choice for a novel. Because even the skilled brain of Jodi Picoult cannot twist a lazy plot device like IT WAS ALL JUST A DREAM into something not worthy of an eye-roll.
Sure, there’s interesting exploration of the whole experience that sparks Diana into changing her life. This aspect of the novel is fine, and could have happened in any kind of story.
Is this novel another tearjerker by the author? Admittedly, yes on my behalf. But that may depend on your personal experience in an ICU and/or hospital. I was hospitalised for a week in 2019, including four nights in the ICU. I didn’t cry for the characters – I cried for ME.
This book is especially disappointing considering that recently I read the author’s Larger Than Life, a five-star novella. I’m pretty sure I’ve rated most of the author’s novels at least four stars. I’ll happily continue to read her solo fiction. (Not interested in her co-written fiction at this stage.) But this is not the book to hook readers new to the author.
ABOUT THE SPOILER (just in case…)
That is indeed a lazy way out. I could see it being used effectively, but it would require a LOT of heavy lifting to make it work. Like okay, use the lucid dreams of ventilator patients, but don’t end the story with that. Maybe make it the mid-point of the story, and give the reader enough lead-in that it doesn’t come out of the blue. Follow-through on what they do differently in their lives based on what they learned in the ventilator-dreams. I would have been highly disappointed in this ending too.
Actually, the reveal IS the midpoint of the book. The rest of the story is about how to deal with life after the reveal. Sorry I didn’t explain that well enough.
Oh! No worries. It sounds like it still had issues with how it was handled, though, if it was disappointing for you.