The Book of Two Ways
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light returns with a thought-provoking and otherworldly new novel about the fates that we choose for ourselves and what happens when we have the chance to choose again.
Dawn Edelstein knows everything there is to know about dying. She specialises in helping her clients make peace with the end of their lives. But as she's flying home from her latest case, she is forced to confront her own mortality for the first time.
Instead of seeing her brilliant quantum physicist husband and their beloved daughter flash before her eyes in what she assumes are her last moments, only one face is shockingly clear: Wyatt Armstrong.
Safely on the ground, Dawn now faces a desperate decision. Should she return to Boston, her family and the life she knows, or journey back to an Egyptian archaeological site she left over a decade earlier, reconnect with Wyatt, and finally finish her abandoned magnum opus, The Book of Two Ways?
As the story unfolds, Dawn must confront the questions she's never truly answered: What does a life well-lived look like? When we depart this earth, what do we leave behind of ourselves? And who would you be if you hadn't turned out to be the person you are right now?
Picoult (A Spark of Life) explores age-old questions about a possible parallel universe in this shrewd tale. The life of narrator Dawn McDowell, a specialist in the ancient Egyptian coffin text the Book of Two Ways, has taken two paths, indicated by alternating chapter titles. In "Water/Boston," Dawn is a death doula facing an impasse in her marriage to quantum mechanics professor Brian Edelstein, after he missed his daughter's birthday to spend time with an adoring student. The "Land/Egypt" path begins with Dawn's life before Brian, when she was on a PhD track as an Egyptologist, worked at a Yale-sponsored dig, and developed a connection with fellow student Wyatt Armstrong. In the present, Dawn returns to Egypt to see if she can pick up the life with Wyatt she left behind, and the trip is described in two ways that mirror one another with a few key differences. Along the way, Picoult unloads a great deal of info on quantum mechanics, parallel worlds, Egyptian history, religion and hieroglyphics, the machinations of archeological digs, and the process of dying. The dual-life construct can be confusing, and readers may find it not sufficiently explained, but Dawn's story offers keen insight on the limits of love. Picoult's fans will appreciate this multifaceted, high-concept work.
A reminder to love and be loved
I ended up loving the direction Picoult had with treating time in this story. I didn’t quite appreciate the ambiguity of the prologue and whether that was a parallel timeline or in fact foreshadowing the event with Waytt there with her. I would’ve also liked to know what Dawn’s plans were after her conversation with Meret (in the end). For a book about life, love and death it was balanced with certainty and uncertainty. Yet I craved more certainty since the main character was hard to relate to and at time emphasise with. Dawn and Waytts love story is hard to grapple logistics with but it is a relationship that reminds us how important it is to follow your heart. And of course I adored the Egyptology and quantum physics lessons that were beautifully simplified!