The Gift by Cecelia Ahern is sometimes marketed as a Christmas story, but it is only at the end of the novel where this time of year comes into play so if you’re reluctant to pick it up outside of December, I can tell you its ok for other seasons too.
Lou Suffern puts the “busy” in businessman. He often wishes he could be in two places as once because he has so many things to do and people to see. His hectic work schedule takes a big toll on his family. Walking into work everyday he sees a homeless man sitting on the street and when he stops one day to offer the man, Gabe, a coffee, his life begins to change.
*Please note there are spoilers in this review.*
Lou Suffern is a stereotypical successful businessman, the one who treats his wife as if it were the 50s rather than the new millennium. He has certain “side-projects” in his office with other women and spends the least amount of time as possible with his family. It was hard to like this character enough to sympathize with him. The only thing that made the reader think he might have one morsel of moral fiber is when he shows kindness to a homeless man. Other than that, he’s not the kind of guy you want to stick with for 300 pages. It would have been nice if there was one other quality about him that made him less of a bad person. They key is Ahern’s use of mystery to keep the reader hooked.
When Lou gets the homeless man, Gabe, a job at his office, he starts to reflect on his own life and Gabe starts doing some weird and unexplained things, which sparks curiosity. After Gabe was introduced, I kept wondering who is this guy? Is it Lou’s long lost twin? Is he a ghost or some other type of being?
Spoiler here! Gabe gives Lou some pills, which allows him to be in two places at once. At first I was intrigued by the mystery and the hunch that Gabe, who looks strikingly similar to Lou, became the second person. However, this is immediately dispelled when the reader actually sees Lou experience the events happening in those two places.
So who is Gabe then if not his twin? What are those pills and how do they allow Lou to be in two places at once? In the end these questions aren’t really answered. Again, it was hard for me to read the book thinking of it as a mystery that needed to be solved and in the end there was no mystery. Basically, you know the “story” just by reading the back cover copy: “An enchanting and thoughtful story that speaks to all of us about the value of time and what is truly important in life.”
Another unexplained part of the novel was the fact that Lou’s story was told by a police officer to a young offender. The book switches back and forth in first-person from the police officer to Lou. The subplots of the police officer and his partner’s life and the family situation of the young offender are all meant to highlight the key concept of the book: family is the most important. Still these characters and their back-stories were not present enough for the reader to fully grasp their role in the story until the very last pages.
I think the problem with this story is that (a) it started out as a concept – the idea that family and loved ones are the most important thing in life and (b) Ahern falls on the pantsing side of the fence. In one of the craft books I read last year, I think it was Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering”, he warns writers about fully realizing their stories that start out as concepts. The Gift reads like the concept was there, the idea about a self-centered man was there, but the means as to how he discovers what is most important in life was farfetched. It was a neat idea that wasn’t fully explained so it left me feeling like something was missing at the end.
I like Ahern’s fresh ideas. If you look at her list of books and look at the core idea, you can easily she has some pretty unique stories. How do you come up with the romantic idea of a husband leaving behind letters to ease the process of saying goodbye to his loving wife? (P.S. I Love You). How do you come up with the idea of a man taking a pill and being in two places at once? (The Gift). And her latest book, having an appointment with your own life? (The Time of My Life). Super cool ideas! Seriously if you’re looking for inspiration in creativity, read her books.
I think if Ahern stopped and did some very basic plotting before she writes, her stories would be even stronger.
Have you read The Gift? Did you ever ask “Who is this Gabe guy?” Have you read a book where you know the story started out as a concept? What did you think? Was it a successful story?