Replay, by Ken Grimwood


The worries I wrote about in my previous posts on this did not come to be, and the book ended up being less infuriating than Harry August, but also less interesting.

Jeff Winston is living twenty-five years of his life over and over again. Each time he dies of a heart attack at exactly the same day and time, at age 43, and wakes up at age 18 to do it all over again. The things he chooses to do with his lives, however, are rather simple and mundane.

He makes a lot of money in one life, by placing bets and buying stocks based on his foreknowledge. But he doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with that money. Doesn’t travel anywhere interesting, or fund any interesting research or start any crazy projects. He just lives a life as a rich man, then dies.

One life he reconnects with the ‘one that got away’, living another normal life with a woman he loves, and starts a family.

After the repetition starts to get to him, and he is distraught that not only will he never see his daughter from his previous life again, but that she’s been completely erased from existence, he lives a life of debauchery, drugs, endless meaningless sex, and eventually isolation. But still, nothing particularly interesting. He stays inside the US, and predictable parts of Europe. No exotic locations or experiences other than drug trips and multiple-partner sex.

When he finally meets another ‘replayer’, who is trying to do something, with big plans that have global scope, he ‘disagrees with her methods’ ie, disagrees that she’s doing literally anything beyond the normal, and gets mad at her about it.

I’m puzzling over the point of this book. It is really well written, and full of nostalgia and melancholy, but I’m not sure exactly what it is trying to say. It seems to be making a point that no matter what you do, life is full of pain that you can’t prevent, so don’t worry about what you’re going to do next, and just enjoy the moment… I think? ‘Don’t question it, just appreciate it’ is another thing it seems to say.

Claire North did a lot more interesting things with the concept in her book, but still seemed to have a somewhat similar message, in that the character who was after answers was the villain.

There isn’t really a villain in Replay, other than time, I suppose, but it has the same feel–that questioning and seeking answers is a waste of time, or is in fact harmful, and you should just enjoy your life and love those around you while you can.

I suppose this is a good message–but when I’m reading a book about a guy who is impossibly living his life over and over, I’m sorry, but I want answers! I’m not going to nod and smile and heave a sigh of relief when he decides to just live his life with his wife and kids and enjoy the moments. That’s not what I want to read about, nor do I imagine it is what anyone who would pick up a book with this premise wants to read either.

Over all this is a very will written book packed full of nostalgia and melancholy. The tone is very consistent and perhaps it is more directed at older people looking back over their lives and pondering their decisions. I recommend Claire North’s book higher for the much more interesting things she does with the concept, but Grimwood’s version is much less irritating in the way the story is framed.


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