My choice for a book to bring back into the spotlight is Ken Grimwood’s 1986 novel Replay. It’s the story of Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack aged 43, then finds himself back at college as an 18-year-old. Aided by his knowledge of the future, Jeff is able to amass a considerable fortune – but he dies once more when he reaches the age of 43, and reverts to his younger self. So the cycle repeats, with Jeff able to remember each of his ‘replays’, but not to make any lasting change.
The real beauty of Replay lies in its structure and its characterisation; it is probably as well-constructed a novel as any I have read. Each iteration of Jeff’s life is different, because his frame of mind is different – now he seeks to change history, now he falls into hedonistic despair – and the progression is never less than throroughly believable. Later on, Grimwood introduces Pamela Phillips, a second character replaying her life; the interplay between her and Jeff also changes subtly each time they meet – and they end up in a place which is both unexpected and entirely apposite. There isn’t a moment in this novel that does not ring true emotionally.
Ken Grimwood was only 59 when he himself died in 2003. Though Replay is his best-known novel, I think this jewel of a book deserves to be read more widely. If you haven’t read it, give it a try – you’re in for a treat.
David Hebblethwaite blogs at Follow the Thread.