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If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Date of Publication: 11th January 2018

Date of Review: 4th December 2019



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.

My Review

After listening to the author speak at the Bristol Festival of Literature I was completely mesmerised by her passion for writing and the books that had influenced her since childhood. The premise for If I Die Before I Wake sounded intriguing; I knew I had a copy of this debut on my TBR and came straight home to bring it to the front of the pile. And I am so glad I did!

The story is told from the first-person perspective of Alex, a twenty-seven year-old man who has his whole life ahead of him until he falls from the Bristol Avon Gorge in a climbing ‘accident’. There is a short prologue of Alex’s everyday life on the day of his ‘accident’ where the reader learns of a mysterious letter, before Chapter One pulls us into Alex’s inner world as he negotiates life in a coma. You learn everything about the other characters through Alex’s sensory perceptions of what is going on around him, as well as what he remembers of his past life (although he can’t remember anything from around the day of the accident).

The narrative voice is spot on: being placed in Alex’s shoes is spine-tinglingly terrifying; a third-person perspective just wouldn’t have had the same effect. The author’s ability as a writer absolutely shines here: you can feel every itch that can’t be scratched, every ache from being in one position for too long, every prod and poke from medical procedures. The vivid sensual imagery is horrifyingly stunning, making it easy to empathise with Alex’s goal of escaping from the trapped living hell he is in; the goal of death.

As Alex relives various moments in his life, the reader is drawn into the relationships he has with those that visit him in hospital. But as visitors come and go, their oblivion to Alex’s awareness of what is going on around him is what makes the narrative so compelling, when through the dialogues and monologues of people entering Alex’s hospital room, raw honest truths are told and secrets are revealed. However, with Alex having reduced sensory perception in areas such as sight, can he be certain that everybody who visits him is who he thinks they are?

As Alex begins to unravel different conversations and secrets, he realises that what happened to him may not have been an accident after-all and his immediate goal of dying is replaced with the need to survive in order to stop whoever did this to him from harming those closest to him. As much as Alex wants to die, he needs to live so he can save those he loves the most. But with no way of communicating in any shape, sense, or form with those around him, just how can he do this?

But this well-written (and I don’t say that lightly) narrative is so much more than a psychological thriller. It is also a story of believing in those you truly love despite the odds. It is chilling, heart-breaking, uplifting; it will make you cry, it will make you laugh, and it will certainly make you appreciate the small everyday things that we all take for granted.

About the Author

Emily Koch is an author and journalist living in Bristol, UK, and is represented by Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge and White. Her debut novel If I Die Before I Wake, published by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is a top 20 bestseller and was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award. It has also been longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, was selected as a Waterstones Thriller of theMonth, and was one of Waterstones’ top paperbacks of 2019.

Emily’s second novel – Keep Him Close – is out in 2020.

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