Book Review: ‘Replay’ by Ken Grimwood

February 26, 2010 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

[I made a conscious decision to read more fantasy, so when I was in Taiwan, I picked up Ken Grimwood’s Replay (on special, of course), which is a part of the “Fantasy Masterworks” series.  According to the blurb, Fantasy Masterworks is a library of some of the greatest, most original, and most influential fantasy ever written.  Replay won the World Fantasy Award in 1988.]

Have you ever looked back on your life and the decisions you have made and regretted them, or wondered how things would have turned out had you gone down a different path?  Well, in Replay, the central character Jeff Winston gets to put those thoughts into action.  You see, Winston is 43-year old man who dies and reawakens to find that he has travelled back in time to when he was 18 again, except his memory of the next 25 years remains in tact.  Sounds like a familiar premise, I know, but 17 Again this is not.

At first, I thought Replay may have been a sci-fi story as opposed to a fantasy, but there is no scientific element at all.  It doesn’t really matter why this is happening to Jeff – what matters is what he does with his second chance(s).

My main concern when I started reading Replay wass that it may be a one-trick pony; a gimmicky book based entirely around this one ‘life replay’.  But I could not have been more wrong.  Replay has a terrific, in-depth storyline that is full of twists and turns.  There is so much more to the tale than just that first replay.

What surprised me most of all was how realistic it all felt.  Put yourself in Jeff Winston’s position.  What would you do if you got a second chance at life?  Would you try to right the wrongs this time around?  Would you use your knowledge of the future to make tons of money or make the world a better place?  These were the decisions Jeff was faced with, and because Grimwood makes him a rational, thinking person, it allows you to relate to him.  At no time did I think – this is completely stupid, he should be doing something completely different!

Part of the realism comes from how Grimwood ties in real-life historical events.  Sports, films, music, economics, wars, political assassinations, pop culture – just about everything that surrounds our daily lives becomes a risk or an opportunity for Jeff.  And that’s what makes the book so intriguing.

Grimwood delivers the story with a clear, straightforward writing style, and I think that is what makes it so effective.  Jeff’s joy, jubilation, fears, regrets, pain and sense of loss are conveyed to the reader with brutal honesty and without manipulation.  We would all love to have the opportunity to relive parts of our lives, but at various points of the book I could not help but sympathise with what Jeff was going through.  It is both a gift and a curse.

As with the best sci-fi and fantasy books, Replay has a poignant (albeit common) message about life.  Through Jeff Winston’s replay of his life, we are given lessons about how we should approach our one and only chance.  For someone like me who just made a life-changing decision, the message couldn’t have been clearer or have come at a better time.

4.5 out of 5 stars!

[PS: Why has there never been a movie version of this book?  There have been many travel back in time stories, but few have captured the emotion as well as Replay has.  Any screenplay, however, would have to be updated to reference more modern times.]

[PPS: Apparently, Grimwood was writing a sequel to Replay when he died of a heart attack in 2003 at age 59.]