Synopsis from Amazon:
“What happens to us after we die? Chris Nielsen had no idea, until an unexpected accident cut his life short, separating him from his beloved wife, Annie. Now Chris must discover the true nature of life after death. But even Heaven is not complete without Annie, and when tragedy threatens to divide them forever, Chris risks his very soul to save Annie from an eternity of despair. Richard Matheson’s powerful tale of life—and love—after death was the basis for the Oscar-winning film starring Robin Williams.”
This is a very subjective read, as a great many factors about the reader will influence their interpretation of this book. Older readers will be able to better appreciate the context of 30 years ago in which it was written. Younger readers may well have seen the movie adapation first. Readers of every age will have very different views of the delicate subject matter at hand and all readers will have have certain preconceptions.
Once Chris has begun to ‘discover the true nature of life after death’, it turns, rather slowly, into a darkly psychological love story spanning the realms of life and death, and indeed Heaven and Hell. Certainly, the basic concept behind this book is original and thought-provoking, and perhaps the most ambitious of Matheson’s attempts. Its visions are notably well ahead of its time, and it relates many philosophical ideas in an easy-to-understand, although almost ‘lecturing’ manner.
Unfortunately, that is how its execution lets it down. It is well known for being a heavily researched book, with several pages of a bibliography encouraging engagement with further study. It covers many intriguing metaphysical ideas. It accounts for a lot of them in great detail, and lacks only a bit of credibility. But that requires the book picking strands from many different spiritual doctrines/ideas, resulting in an amalgamation of unrelated concepts. The level of research, and thus the level of explanation necessary, completely overpowers the characters and plot. It leaves the reader thinking, but unmoved by those thoughts. The movie adaption waters down these concepts, but develops the characters and plot to a point where you really care about them.
In the end, it comes down to what you want this story to become to you. If you want a love story to drag you down into an emotional, hell-bound adventure, stick to the movie. If, like me, you are a philosophical mind looking for a deeper exploration of the spiritual and metaphysical – you will find this book rewarding enough to be well worth at least one read.