In March, we introduced a new service: the Reading Doctor. Read more about Dr Louise here. And do feel free to request further prescriptions, as needed!
Prescription #17: I've been thinking about 'sliding doors' moments - those turning points in our lives where possibilities branch off in interesting ways. What are some novels that explore this idea?
The road not taken
There are moments in literature, and in life – sometimes only recognisable retrospectively – which are turning points, balanced on a knife-edge, in which the future branches before us, offering multiple possibilities dependent on one decision, or perhaps simply fate. If you’ve ever thought “what if?”, these books might appeal.
· What would have happened if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton, wonders Curtis Sittenfeld, in a novel about politics, relationships, the media, feminism and self-fulfilment.
· Two possible futures are offered up as a dual narrative in Lionel Shriver’s novel The Post-Birthday World, one which follows a forbidden kiss, the other the consequence of the protagonist’s decision to resist the temptation.
· Monica Ali tells an Untold Story in which Princess Diana didn’t die in a tragic car crash in Paris, but instead arranged her own disappearance in order to live a quiet life in a small American town.
· The classic children’s novel by Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, is part of a series set in England during the fictional early 19th-century reign of King James the Third, in which wolves have migrated from the frozen climes of Europe and Russia through a new channel tunnel.
· In Jasper Fforde’s The Constant Rabbit, an Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event in 1967 – believed by some to be satiric in nature – has led to a population of human-size rabbits living in the UK, to the discomfort of many, led by the ruling United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party (UKARP).
· Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, tells the story not just of a life lived during wartime Britain, but the many possible stories of that life; the narrative stops and begins again, and again, from the same point, each time taking a different course.
· During WWII, the state of Israel is destroyed and a settlement for Jewish refugees is established in Sitka, Alaska, to become a present-day Yiddish-speaking metropolis in Michael Chabon’s speculative novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.
· Claire North imagines a man who is reborn again and again, and retains the knowledge of his previous existences, in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.
· When the Axis powers won the war, America was divided up between Japan, Italy and Germany in Philip K Dick’s alternative history, The Man in the High Castle.
· Philip Roth imagines that Franklin D Roosevelt loses the 1940 American presidential election to Charles Lindbergh, in The Plot Against America, bringing his anti-semitism into accepted American life.