Monday 8 January 2018

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch @EmilyKoch @HarvillSecker @AnnaLRedman #MyLifeInBooks #Review


Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger. 

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.

A stunning edge-of-your-seat debut novel with an unforgettable narrator.

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch is published in hardback and ebook by Harvill Secker on 11 January 2018 and is the author's debut novel.  My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Oh 2018, you are very welcome. It's just one week into the the new year and so far, the books that I've read have been amazing. I'm in my element, I really am. If I Die Before I Wake is one of those books; it's chilling and powerful, original and all consuming and Emily Koch really is an exciting and talented writer.

Alex has been lying in his hospital bed for two years. He's paralysed, unable to speak and can barely see. Alex used to be a journalist, he was happy with his girlfriend Bea and he was passionate about rock-climbing. It was his passion that led him to be in hospital, he fell and injured himself so badly that the doctors are just waiting for him to get one more infection, they are sure that he won't survive the next one.

The doctors also believe that Alex can't hear anything. They think that he is totally oblivious to everything that happens in his hospital room. His visitors also believe that. His girlfriend, his family and his friends, all of them believe that the Alex that they knew and loved is no longer with them.

But Alex can hear. Sometimes, when he's placed in the right position, he can see, for a few seconds. Alex knows exactly what is happening, he just can't tell anyone.

The total frustration of his situation is excellently and chillingly described by this clever author, and the story is narrated throughout in Alex's voice. One side of the story only, but oh what a story it is.

This is not just the telling of the present; the reader learns about Alex's early life through his recollections, we know about his relationships, his worries and we know that he is worried about a certain regular visitor. It becomes clear, to Alex, and to the reader, that his fall may not have been an accident after all. The police are involved, and questions are being asked. Alex's friends and family speak freely in front of him, why wouldn't they, after all, he can't hear them ... or so they think. This enables Alex to learn more, but also to imagine more about what led to his fall and makes for an engrossing and cleverly constructed story.

I like Alex's voice, I like the way that the author allows his current thoughts to reflect on his past, giving the reader a full, if one sided vision of Alex as a person and of his relationships.

If I Die Before I Wake is a modern mystery. It is compelling and gripping and makes the reader consider how they might deal with a similar situation. I enjoyed it immensely and would highly recommend it.

I am delighted to welcome author Emily Koch here to Random Things today. She's sharing the books that are important to her in My Life In Books

My Life in Books - Emily Koch

I loved putting this list together! I tried different ways of doing it: I had a list of my favourites, another of the ones which had influence my writing the most, and finally settled on this version. These books, for me, represent different parts of and key events in my life. Thank you for having me on Random Things Through My Letterbox.

Fattypuffs and Thinifers by André Maurois
My poor dad used to read to me most nights before I fell asleep. I’m sure I made him continue this until I was far too old for it, but I was a total bedtime book junkie. Through the day I would read books by myself but there is something so relaxing about being told a story. As well as classics like the Faraway Tree series, one I remember clearly was Fattypuffs and Thinifers (a translation of the 1930s French book Patapoufs et Filifers), about the underground kingdom of the fat and congenial Fattypuffs and the thin and irritable Thinifers.

The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh
A childhood favourite of mine to read myself was The Mennyms series. I remember feeling incredibly emotional about the plight of this family of life-size rag dolls living in a British town, whose secret was at risk of being exposed.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
I studied this at school and my copy is full of notes, highlighting and cross-referencing page numbers. I love flicking through it. When we were studying this stunning novel – about an escaped slave and the ghost of her baby daughter – I felt like I knew it inside out. I must have read it about 20 times that year.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver
A friend gave this collection of short stories to me when I was in hospital after a nasty car accident in my 20s. I was blown away by the stories – they were unlike anything I had read before. Suffering with the after-effects of severe concussion, I wasn’t able to concentrate on anything anywhere near as long as a novel, so these were perfect.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
I read this book partly because Nathan Filer lived in Bristol (as I do), and the local newspaper where I was working had printed several stories about him and this novel, about one man’s descent into mental illness. When I got to the end I vividly remember sitting on my sofa at home, and reading Nathan’s words about writing the book while studying for a creative writing MA at Bath Spa University. I had been struggling with my first novel for about 18 months at that point. Bath wasn’t far from Bristol, I thought to myself. Maybe I could do that MA, and finish my book in the process? The rest is history – that book became If I Die Before I Wake.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This book was an obvious starting point for my research into locked-in syndrome (which afflicts my protagonist in If I Die Before I Wake). I had seen the film adaptation - and balled my eyes out - but the book is powerful in a different way. It is short, but so beautifully simple and harrowing.

The Green Road by Anne Enright
I met my agent, Peter Straus, after he sat next to me at an event where one of his authors was speaking. I had no idea who he was, but told him all about the book I was working on, and was mortified when he later told me he was an agent. What on earth had I said about my book? I couldn’t remember. Had I made it sound any good? I promptly went to pieces but luckily he asked me to send him the book when it was finished. Before I was ready to do that, we kept in touch, and he sent me this glorious novel by Anne Enright – one of the other authors he works with. I love the way it focusses on each character in turn and then opens up at the end, just as the physical landscape of the story does.

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Another freebie! This time, from my now-editor, Liz Foley. She gave me this fantastic psychological thriller about a hen do that goes horribly wrong when I visited her to talk about my novel. Between that meeting and signing a publishing contract, my now-husband and I eloped to Dorset. We got married on the Friday morning in Dorchester registry office, spent lunchtime calling all our shocked friends and family while drinking prosecco, and then went paddleboarding through the magnificent limestone arch of Durdle Door in the afternoon. In the evening I finished reading In a Dark Dark Wood, feeling glad I hadn’t had a hen do, if the one in the book was anything to go by – and wondering if this would be the year I not only got married, but got published. (It was!)

Bedtime for Little Bears by David Bedford (illustrated by Caroline Pedler)
And we’ve come full circle, back to another children’s book. This one I love to read to my own daughter, Gwen, who arrived when I was in the midst of final proof reads of If I Die Before I Wake. I hope she enjoys books as much as I do – but currently, she seems to think they are designed for chewing.

Emily Koch is an award-winning journalist living in Bristol with her husband and daughter. 

She is a graduate of the Bath Spa Creative Writing programme. 

If I Die Before I Wake is her first novel.

For more information about Emily and her work, visit

Check out her author page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @emilykoch and on Instagram @emilykochwriter.

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