The Heavens

The Heavens

A work of rare literary brilliance and emotional power, The Heavens is a mesmerizing novel of love and time, of dreams and politics, that asks how we come to inhabit our world New York, late summer, 2000. A party in a spacious Manhattan apartment, hosted by a wealthy young activist. Dozens of idealistic twenty-somethings have impassioned conversations over takeout dumpling...

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Title:The Heavens
Author:Sandra Newman
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Edition Language:English

The Heavens Reviews

  • jo

    i read this via an arc from netgalley and have been thinking long and hard about how to write about it, and haven't come up with a good plan. it's hard to say anything about this book without giving it away, but let me try.

    first of all, the easy part: the writing is amazing. if you have read

    , you already know that sandra newman is a language wizard. in this book, which is divided between present-time and in-the-past chapters, the wizardry is most prominent in the s

    i read this via an arc from netgalley and have been thinking long and hard about how to write about it, and haven't come up with a good plan. it's hard to say anything about this book without giving it away, but let me try.

    first of all, the easy part: the writing is amazing. if you have read

    , you already know that sandra newman is a language wizard. in this book, which is divided between present-time and in-the-past chapters, the wizardry is most prominent in the set-in-the-past chapters, while the set-in-the-present ones are beautiful, lyrical, and mind-blowingly inventive.

    another easy part: the

    is amazing. the idea behind it. it will make you think a lot -- what it means, is it plausible, what is going on -- while being quite simply a page turner.

    i confess i'm a bit of a sandra newman groupie. i follow her on twitter, this miraculous mediaverse in which you can talk daily to your favorite writers and, if you are nice and they are nice, they answer. on twitter she is just as explosively inventive as she is in her books.

    but this book, man, this book is rigorous. it's got all its philosophy worked out. there's no slippage (unlike in

    , a fabulous book with an ending that leaves you panting for a sequel).

    and there is a lot to check, because there is a massive amount, in this book, of world building. let me just say that this kinda slender book manages to jump, fairly effortlessly, between the 16th century, the future, and then, uncannily, as the chapters progress, more and more the present.

    the link between all of these worlds is kate, a mad prophetess. in fact she is not mad at all but, like all prophets, is inevitably condemned to be read as mad. the cast of characters, in all timelines, is fantastic and their evolution in relation to the timelines they are in is flawless.

    there is also quite a bit of laughing cuz sandra newman is really funny. what stayed with me most, though, was the sheer beauty of it all and, sadly, the bleak representation of the mess we are making of this world.

    oh, and this is also a love story. did i say this is a love story? this is a terrific love story between many lovers and, also, the same lovers again and again.

  • Marchpane

    Having seen a few lukewarm reviews of

    , my expectations were duly lowered. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this literary/historical/time-travel mashup.

    Kate visits the past in her dreams. 16th century England to be specific. But each time she wakes, in early 2000’s New York, the world around her is a little different. Kate’s the only one who notices the changes and her family and friends think she is losing her grip on reality.

    In the original timeline, in the year 2000, the wor

    Having seen a few lukewarm reviews of

    , my expectations were duly lowered. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this literary/historical/time-travel mashup.

    Kate visits the past in her dreams. 16th century England to be specific. But each time she wakes, in early 2000’s New York, the world around her is a little different. Kate’s the only one who notices the changes and her family and friends think she is losing her grip on reality.

    In the original timeline, in the year 2000, the world is peaceful, an idealised version of our world, not perfect, but better. Different in odd ways: like no one has heard of William Shakespeare, who existed but faded into obscurity. In her dreams, Kate interferes in history. She paves the way for Shakespeare’s success, not only in his own time but a legacy enduring for centuries – and as a result the world in 2000 becomes more polluted, more violent, a step closer to total destruction. But this is no random butterfly effect. As a direct result of one man’s elevation to fame and glory, our world sickens.

    is not without flaws. Each of the lit fic, historical and sci-fi elements, judged in isolation, fell short in one way or another. But they are presented in combination and it is a combination that I happen to really enjoy, so for me this novel was more than the sum of its parts. Additionally, this is a novel without much of a shape, that is to say it does not deliver dramatic peaks or plot twists, neither does it give straightforward answers. And there are some noticeably clunky turns of phrase (eg ‘

    ’). Despite all that I found it to be an engrossing and enjoyable genre-bender with an intriguing take on cosmic karma. 3.5 stars.

  • Sara

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

    The Heavens is such a difficult book to review, as it spans several genres and is rather different to anything I’ve read before. The basic synopsis is centred around Kate and Ben, who meet in the year 2000 and fall in love. This is a 2000 that’s like our own, yet different in many subtle yet significant ways. It soon becomes apparent that Kate is just as ‘different’, as she explains that she often dreams of a previous life in Eliza

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

    The Heavens is such a difficult book to review, as it spans several genres and is rather different to anything I’ve read before. The basic synopsis is centred around Kate and Ben, who meet in the year 2000 and fall in love. This is a 2000 that’s like our own, yet different in many subtle yet significant ways. It soon becomes apparent that Kate is just as ‘different’, as she explains that she often dreams of a previous life in Elizabethan England. As the dreams become more ‘real’, and Kate realises that her actions in the past are affecting her present, Ben begins to think that Kate may be losing her sense of reality.

    This was fast paced, and the writing for the most part was well done. I struggled with the sections set in the past as I found the writing style quite jarring and difficult to get into, and the constant chopping and changing between the many different time periods also got a bit cumbersome and confusing as each jump leads to changes in the ‘present’. I actually found myself longing for more sections set in the present so we could really get to know Kate and Ben more before some event from the past begins to change them - although I think that the idea for this was quite unique. I just found no real emotional connection to either of them, because their personalities change and evolve so rapidly.

    It’s a complex plot really, that requires some concentration on the readers part to really get the most out of the text. It deals with a number of important questions such as the idea that history can indeed repeat itself, and that if we could change history to better the present, would we? I could delve deeper into the plot here, but I believe that each reader will interpret the text differently and reach a different conclusion as to what is really going on - which is a real draw to the story.

    It certainly was rather though provoking, I just wish I’d liked the characters more.

  • Rachel

    is essentially Sandra Newman's novelized meditation on the Great Man Theory - the idea that history has been shaped by a few influential individuals. Kate, a young woman living in New York City in the early 2000s, believes she's one such person, as she has dreams which propel her into a past timeline where she lives as a mistress in Elizabethan England. When she wakes up, she begins to notice that details about her life have changed overnight, and as she becomes increasingly convince

    is essentially Sandra Newman's novelized meditation on the Great Man Theory - the idea that history has been shaped by a few influential individuals. Kate, a young woman living in New York City in the early 2000s, believes she's one such person, as she has dreams which propel her into a past timeline where she lives as a mistress in Elizabethan England. When she wakes up, she begins to notice that details about her life have changed overnight, and as she becomes increasingly convinced that her dreams are affecting her reality, her boyfriend Ben becomes concerned about her mental health.

    It's particularly difficult to talk about the plot of this book when it's ever-shifting. At the start of the novel Kate and Ben live in a New York that resembles our own, except that we aren't at war and we've elected a green party president named Chen, until one day she wakes up and is informed by her concerned friends that Gore is president, and has been president all along, doesn't she remember? Newman excels at playing with this inherently tenuous atmosphere; whether it's Kate's mental stability or the fabric of the universe that's really on the verge of collapse, there's a palpable fragility at play while you turn these pages, never sure which details are going to shift from one page to the next.

    But despite its clever construction, this doesn't completely work from start to finish. Kate's dream narrative is noticeably weaker than that of the present, and the depiction of 1590s England feels almost caricaturish. It also plays with many different lofty ideas and doesn't always follow through with seamless execution; certain plot threads feel abandoned and under-examined, and I thought the resolution undermined a lot of what came before it. But, I haven't completely made up my mind about this book and I'm sure to be mulling it over for days to come, so I'm very curious to see how others will receive this wildly unconventional tale of love and fate and time travel.

  • Paul Fulcher

    The Heavens begins in 2000 in an idealised New York, a female progressive on her way to the Presidency, narrated from the perspective of Ben who meets and falls in love with Kate:

    The Heavens begins in 2000 in an idealised New York, a female progressive on her way to the Presidency, narrated from the perspective of Ben who meets and falls in love with Kate:

    But The Heavens is Kate's story not Ben's. And Kate has an unusual trait. When she dreams, particularly at times of heightened emotions such as when she is in love, she revisits the same dream, one she inhabits and which seems to her less a dream than an alternate reality: in this reality it is 1593, in Elizabethan England and she is Emilia, not Kate. More specifically

    .

    In Kate's idealised 2000 Shakespeare is unknown. But in her dream/alternative reality, she meets and befriend a young playwright Will and feels compelled to help him in his fledgling career, feeling that somehow that will make the world a better place and avoid another nightmare she has, this time of an apocalyptic future, from becoming reality.

    But each time she wakes, she finds her present day world changed, and largely for the worse: Chen is replaced by President Gore then President Bush, although Shakespeare becomes more and more of a known figure:

    The Heavens can't make up its mind - or more charitably allows the reader to decide - whether this is time-travelling science fiction (Terminator is explicitly referenced) or actually a documentation of mental illness. The more moving and convincing parts of the novel are the second of these, as Ben, and Kate's family and other friends, struggle to cope with someone who insists that when she went to bed the previous night someone else was President, and who is convinced that she is responsible for the changes.

    It was rather less effective for this reader in terms of the rather corny science fiction plot, which combines both the butterfly effect and 'great man' theory of history.

    And ones liking for the book will also depend rather on one's affinity for the two separate sections of narrative - even ignoring the link between them - a rather kooky version of modern New York life with crazee characters (e.g. an ex-mail order bride from the Ukraine with an aversion to clothes) and a 'Prithee, Sirrah' pastiche of Shakespearian Britain.

    Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for the ARC.

    Overall - something of a hotpotch but entertainingly done. 2.5 stars rounded to 3.

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