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Claire Handscombe

Sliding Doors: 5 Great Books About Parallel Lives

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Claire Handscombe
Claire Handscombe
 2021-05-12

We've all wondered it, haven't we? What if I'd taken that job, or kissed that man, or been born in another time and place? The great thing about fiction is that it allows us to explore alternate lives -- the road not taken. Here are five novels that do that. (Descriptions are taken from online stores.)

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

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On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?

Meet Me In Another Life, by Catriona Silvey

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Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.

But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and brilliant student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and believer. In alternating realities they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. As blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

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Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano, by Donna Freitas

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Rose Napolitano is fighting with her husband, Luke, about prenatal vitamins. She promised she'd take them, but didn't. He promised before they got married that he'd never want children, but now he's changed his mind. Their marriage has come to rest on this one question: Can Rose find it in herself to become a mother? Rose is a successful professor and academic. She's never wanted to have a child. The fight ends, and with it their marriage.

But then, Rose has a fight with Luke about the vitamins--again. This time the fight goes slightly differently, and so does Rose's future as she grapples with whether she can indeed give up the one thing she thought she knew about herself. Can she reimagine her life in a completely new way? That reimagining plays out again and again in each of Rose's nine lives, just as it does for each of us as we grow into adulthood. What are the consequences of our biggest choices? How would life change if we let go of our preconceived ideas of ourselves and became someone completely new? Rose Napolitano's experience of choosing and then choosing again shows us in an utterly compelling way what it means, literally, to reinvent a life and, sometimes, become a different kind of woman than we ever imagined.

The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett

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A dazzling novel about the ways the smallest decisions give shape to our lives, The Versions of Us charts a relationship through three possible futures. Cambridge, 1958. Late for class, Eva Edelstein swerves to miss a dog and crashes her bike. Jim Taylor hurries to help her. In that brief moment, three outcomes are born for Eva and Jim. As the strands of their lives weave together and apart across the decades from college through wildly different successes and disappointments, seductions and betrayals, births and funerals, joys and sorrows, the only constant is the power of their connection.