Reincarnation and romance in a re-release
Always, by Trevor Meldal-Johnsen was originally published in 1979, but was out of print until its 1999 re-release in hardcover form.
It's a novel about reincarnation, disguised as a romance. The protagonist -- screenwriter Gregory Thomas - is watching a film, when the lead actress says: "I've loved you since the first sun rose. I've loved you through God-sent catastrophe and man-made disaster. My love has no shame, no pride. It is only what it is, always has been, and always will be. It is yours. All yours. Only yours."
The scene sends Gregory into a fit of tears. He immediately becomes obsessed with the actress. One problem: the film is a classic 1940s vehicle and the actress, Brooke Ashley, died in a fire in 1949 with her lover.
Gregory begins to research her life, much to the annoyance of his whiny girlfriend. If you're already guessing that our hero turns out to be the reincarnation of Brooke's lover, you're right. For some reason though, he can't figure it out until well after the reader gets it.
Meldal-Johnsen tosses a few red herrings into the mix, but is unsuccessful in throwing the reader off the trail. We're well ahead of Gregory, who seems baffled by obvious clues. Heck, even his cat seems to know what's going on before he does.
But predictability wasn't the most unsettling aspect of the book. There are passages that read like thinly veiled propaganda, not unlike the stories some spiritual organizations put out to illustrate real-life application of their beliefs.
I assumed that this was the result of the author having done some research on reincarnation, and incorporating that research into the work. It is revealed, however, in the afterword that the spiritual path Meldal-Johnsen has chosen in his own life includes reincarnation as an important element.
My reaction to this revelation was a feeling of having been somewhat misled. What was supposed to be a romantic thriller turned out to be a story with a message. I didn't want a message. Or at least, I would have preferred to know up front, not be informed after the novel's final scene.
Nonetheless, if you're a romance novel enthusiast, Always will deliver some steamy scenes, some interesting characters and a decent, if predictable, plot. My advice would be to switch off the analytical part of your brain, pour yourself some tea, and enjoy the book as light entertainment.
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