Martine's Reviews > Five Minutes in Heaven

Five Minutes in Heaven by Lisa Alther
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's review
Mar 07, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: intelligent-chick-lit, north-american, psychological-drama, glbt, romance
Recommended for: everyone yearning for The One
Read in January, 1998

A while ago I mentioned here that I like stories about obsessive love. I'm not sure what it says about me that I do, but anyhow, this is one such story. It's obsessive, it's haunting and it's compelling, and gets four stars just for that. Once upon a time I'd have given it five, but no, it's not quite that good.

Five Minutes in Heaven is about Jude, a tomboyish girl growing up in 1950s Tennessee. Very early on in life, Jude meets her soulmate in the form of her childhood friend Molly. The two girls have an intense friendship which might grow into something more, except that Molly first decides that having this kind of relationship is Wrong and then dies, leaving Jude devastated and alone. The story then fast-forwards ten years, following Jude through her twenties and thirties in New York and Paris. She's still trying to find the kind of union she had with Molly (first with a man, then with a woman), but unfortunately, every time she finds a soulmate, her beloved dies. Usually in a pretty gruesome fashion.

As you can tell from the above, Five Minutes in Heaven is not a very cheerful book. Nor is it very mainstream, what with all the main characters being either gay or bisexual and some of them being fairly morbid. It is, however, a beautiful exploration of 'graveyard love', of living in the past and yearning for what could have been, and of the confusing territory between friendship and love. Alther has a great eye for the telling detail. Her evocation of a troubled teenage friendship in 1950s Tennessee is beautiful, and her observations on the differences between Southerners and Northerners, Americans, Brits and French people are spot on, albeit cliched. The book itself has elements of all these cultures. It's a bit unsubtle at times (Alther is prone to telling rather than showing), but eminently readable, and as I said, quite intense and compelling. Definitely recommended for those who like their love stories a little on the obsessive side.
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