The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

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The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Possibly one of those rare life-changing novels, that people will readily gift to anyone they think deserves it. Certainly I might even start answering unknown phone calls.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 9781847442260

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Something extraordinary is going to happen, and will continue to happen, through a long and eventful autumn in the small town of Coldwater. People will pick up phones, and hear a loved one speak to them, with assurances, love, delight – but they will all be the voices of dead loved ones. One woman has her slightly older, late sister contact her, another her deceased mother, who had ended her life disabled and wordless, while the local policeman will regain contact with the son killed in action in Afghanistan. The whole town will be transformed, but it might actually hit someone else hardest – Sully, fresh out of prison and patching his life back together with his six year old son, with both of them puzzled at why the lad's dead mother is among the silent majority.

I suppose I ought to state my claim to be a most atheist of reviewers when mentioning this plot regarding Christian faith and miracles, but it might not be as important as you think. This book obviously concerns religion – certainly the churches and churchmen in the town have a part to play in things, but on the whole the story is a universal one. We can on the whole read books that while not exactly being horror deal with sin, nastiness and hell – why not therefore read a story that concerns the other – compassion, the warmth and light of heaven and the reassurance that (to some) brings? But that is not to say this is a genre piece at all.

What it is is a simply brilliant evocation of a fabulous plot. The trappings of the story may come from a script meeting for a Torchwood mini-series, but it goes so much further. The drive of the story is multifarious, with the emerging characters of the blessed ones, the nature of the town's whole mass reaction to the miracle (potently carried by media and commercial concerns) and Sully's part in things, both past and present. You can hit pieces of this plot and think I was fibbing about this being a genre novel, for some of it can read like the best of thrillers.

What Albom brings to the story, apart from a sense of spirituality that his large fan-base would already expect, is his trademark clarity. This is just superlative at whatever level you look – every word is crisp and clear, with a style that is both probably pared back to the minimum, with copious one-line paragraphs, but is completely natural and easy on the eye and brain; and a true story-telling craft that, to repeat, concerns itself with clarity of plot and character way before any attempt at metaphor, societal commentary or other unsubtleties.

The fact that the plot is equal to the premise, for once, and the author's talent equal to his intentions, means this is one of the better novels of the year. I relished it immensely – and that from someone whose last look at an Albom book resulted in some disappointment after the two that globally made his name. I have to consider this book an outright success – yes, it is a WASPish America with a very white cast concerning their heaven and no other religion getting a look in, but I do think this will be universally appealing. I did find it a little rich of Albom to be so forthright and declamatory at times (once you have a sister, you never stop having her… etc), and the multiple strands of plot visited weekly add for some clunky 'don't-you-forget-this-character' moments, but there is no reason to hold anything up as a fault against a book this good. Even you can see clearly what will happen, you still can’t hold it in when it happens. I can see this volume joining the first two Albom efforts in being the kind of book numerously gifted among literate friends.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Have a Little Faith is the author providing further instances of religion with a joint biography. For more spiritually-inclined fiction, you should enjoy The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers.

Buy The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom at Amazon.com.


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