BOOK CLUB: Life Before

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Author: Carmel Reilly
ISBN: 978 1 76052 931 4
Publication Date: May 2019
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine. The review has also been previously published on Lorraine’s personal blog.

“Life Before” is a fascinating novel. It’s predominately a novel which explores relationships, but Reilly uses some thriller-like techniques to give the novel momentum and shape. It’s not a novel for those looking for a traditional thriller, but it’s a stand out for readers wanting a contemporary novel with depth and power.

Lori Spyker is trying to get her kids out of the house and on the way to school when the police visit to advise her that her brother Scott has been seriously injured in a hit and run accident. This is disturbing news for a number of reasons: Lori hasn’t seen or spoken to her brother for decades. In fact, she’s never told her husband that he exists. Being reminded of Scott brings up memories of the traumatic events that led her to cut Scott out of her life.

She can’t just ignore him, though. She appears to be his only contact, and the police want her help to work out why he was run down, and by whom. It’s a moral dilemma too – what does she owe a brother she no longer knows? What will be the impact on her new life if she has to reveal her past?

Lori is a strong and empathetic character, and most readers will find something they recognise in her. In many ways she’s an everywoman: in a happy marriage but sometimes struggling to find time for her husband; loving her kids but sometimes finding the caretaking hard; wanting a career but barely having time for a job. Her dilemma may be uncommon in its’ details, but the broad picture of a woman tussling with her obligations, wants and needs, is familiar and an accessible way into her head.

The novel alternates between the current day and the events of the early 1990s. In both time lines the pictures of family life are vivid and loving. Lori’s mother, Pam, emerges as the central character of the earlier period, and she’s as well rounded and recognisable a character as Lori. As a result, both storylines are compelling. Reilly has woven them together well; the novel flows exceptionally well despite the constant changes in time.

Towards the end, where multiple storylines are drawn together, some readers may feel that too many are pulled together – in real life, not everything is connected. For me this was something of a blip – I did feel it was a little too much, but Reilly did not dwell on this too much, so I was able to forgive it. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I will say that there was one connection too many for me to be comfortable with.

However, I really enjoyed “Life Before”. It’s a really strong character based novel – the plot is strong and credible, but it’s Lori and Pam’s relationships with themselves and others which give the novel real power. Reilly saves one last kick in the pants for the last page – you’ll want to read the whole novel again in light of your new perceptions. Highly recommended.

Life Before is available now through Allen & Unwin and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin 20 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading Life Before so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.

17 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Life Before

  1. I really loved this book!

    It’s 2016 and the story starts with Lori who is married and has two kids. One day she finds out that her brother has been involved in an accident and is in hospital. Lori is listed as his next of kin and she has very mixed feelings about going to see him. Something bad happened before her current life and she hasn’t had any contact with him for 20 years,

    The story then jumps back to 1993 and we meet Pam – Lori’s mother. The story is told from her point of view. We find that Lori is a typical 16 year old and we start to find out the life that she had before and why she has become estranged from her brother.

    I loved the mystery surrounding the story. What could possibly have happened that would cause this rift? It will keep you guessing to the end!

    It was really easy to read and I highly recommend it.

    Thank you Beauty and Lace and Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read it.

  2. Life Before by Carmel Reilly is an in depth look into an Australian family in the before and after a certain incident.
    We are taken on a journey through the nineties when Lori and Scott are young and carefree, then in total contrast we are shown their lives today in the here and now.
    Boy can things change.
    The author explores human emotion and how some things just cant be forgotten, by all involved.
    I enjoyed reading this book, but I have to say that it wasnt a traditional, edge of your seat, thriller. Rather something that I could really sink my teeth in to.
    Thanks to Beauty and Lace for allowing me to review this book.

  3. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.
    Even though it started out slow, I thoroughly enjoyed the different time lines and the emotion of this book
    I enjoyed all the characters and was very interested to see how everything played out.
    Overall I would recommend this book to my fellow reading friends.

  4. Thank you Beauty and lace and Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.
    Life Before is a captivating story about a family in crisis. Its a great story about how one mistake can change many lives.
    I did enjoy reading this book, however I was disappointed with the abrupt end which left many questions unanswered.
    It was beautifully written, I give it 3.5 stars.

  5. “Life Before” centres around Lori & her brother Scott, wo have been estranged for over 20 years after a family tragedy tore them apart.

    Lori is going about her life in Melbourne in 2016 when a visit from the police forces her to confront her demons from the past. Scott is back and he’s in hospital after a serious accident.

    I loved how this book gave me a touch of nostalgia, it had me travelling back to the early 90’s as a teenager in high school.

    It kept going back and forth between 2016 & 1993, when ‘life before’ a terrible car accident seemed so much simpler.

    I liked how it all tied together in the end, although I did want a little more resolution with the hubby’s work problems (I guess we presume it all works out).

    This was a very well-written , great Aussie saga, highly recommend.

  6. Life Before by Carmel Reilly. A little slow to start but once you start to learn about the characters it sucks you in on this Australian drama.

    Lori was estranged from her brother after a tragic accident however was suddenly pulled back into his life and re-living memories of the past. Her story parallels the life of her mother, Pam, who gives you a full sense of where Lori has come from and why she is the way she is.

    Lori was left with the decision as she sat next to the hospital bed of her brother, does she let him in, or walk away again.

    This book was slow to start but once it got going it had me hooked. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for giving me the opportunity to read and review.

  7. I found it really hard to get into at first started slow but kept persisting. I also found in the begining going back & fourth in the years a bit confusing.

    Was a good read.

    Thank you Beauty & Lace and Allen and Unwin for letting me review this book.

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