‘The Two Lives of Lydia Bird’ Puts a Brilliant Spin on Grief

Book cover of The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. Cover is red with white writing, on a cream background with orange dots.

This might be a weird thing to admit, but I’m a bit obsessed with grief narratives.

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A few years ago when I suddenly lost someone who had once been close to me, I went down a rabbit hole, reading my way through every grief memoir I could get my hands on. I reread Wild and H is for Hawk, chased down book after book about loss and grieving to the point where I honestly have no idea how many grief-related stories I have read.

Even years after my own loss, I still find myself drawn to the topic of grief and grieving.

Loss is one of the most unavoidable truths of the human experience, and it’s one that can feel painfully lonely when we’re in the midst of it. This is, I think, why I’m so drawn to stories about grief. As distinctly personal as grieving is, it’s also universal — all of us will grieve someone or something, at some point.

Though each person will walk through the experience differently depending upon our faith backgrounds, support systems, and personalities, we will all go on the journey in one way or another.

As I browsed the shelves of Barnes & Noble trying to decide which book to buy myself for my birthday, Josie Silver’s The Two Lives of Lydia Bird stood out to me. Initially, it grabbed my eye because it was cover-out and I recognized the similar style from Silver’s previous book, One Day In Decemberwhich I adored.

Reading the back cover to see what this new book was about, I paused. The circumstances described might be a bit too close to home, I thought. Since it’s on the back cover copy, I won’t consider this a spoiler: the book is about Lydia coping with the sudden death of her fiancé.

Being engaged and generally anxious about anything happening to my own fiancé, I wasn’t entirely sure reading this book was a good idea. In the end, though, I couldn’t resist. Grief narratives are my kryptonite, and this one has a unique twist.

Lydia discovers a secret backdoor into another life, perhaps a parallel universe, in which her fiancé hasn’t died. This is certainly a twist on the grieving process that I haven’t seen before, and I had to see how (and whether) Silver pulled it off.

When I got home with the book, I announced to my fiancé that I would be spending the next few hours sitting on the back porch, reading and probably crying. Being used to these sorts of announcements by now, he shrugged and said okay.

Initially, I planned to read the entire book in a day, a wonderful use of my birthday vacation from work. However, I found that I had to slow down my intended pace a bit to really sit with the story.

Silver doesn’t pull the punches in this one. It is raw and heartbreaking and difficult, as any good story about loss will be. The fact that Lydia is able to take the experimental sleeping pills her doctor prescribed and find herself transported to another version of her life with Freddie is as interesting as it is emotional.

The ping-pong effect of traveling back and forth between versions of her life begins to wear on Lydia over the course of the novel, and it wears on the reader, too. It is an absolutely fascinating look at grief, and the impulse to yearn for the version of our life that has become inaccessible to us, irrevocably changed by the absence of one of our people.

I love the way that Silver uses this plot device to hone in on all the ways in which grief is transformative, using the parallel lives to examine the inner shifts that inevitably take place as we move through loss.

Lydia begins to find that she fits less and less into this other version of her life, not always understanding the choices her other self has made.

For all the sadness and heaviness of a novel dealing with grief, this book contains wit, humor, and compelling characters throughout. I laughed as often as I cried and felt invested in Lydia’s journey in spite of knowing that she would ultimately have to decide to leave her alternate life behind, one way or another.

I won’t go into details about how this pans out because that would be spoiler territory, but I will say I really enjoyed how Lydia’s journey through grief was handled in the light of such a unique opportunity to hide from the process.

Perhaps not everyone is as eager to tear through stories about grief as I am, but I highly recommend The Two Lives of Lydia Bird nonetheless. It is a welcome nod to anyone who has experienced the particular loss of someone you once loved romantically, and a clever angle at which to hold up the lens on loss.

So, the next time you’re in the mood for a good cry, grab your tissues and a copy of this book.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. If you’d like to join us in raving about our favourite reads, check out our Write for Us page, where you’ll find more details on how to become a contributor. Thank you for reading!

Published by AmandaKay

Amanda Kay Oaks is a Pittsburgh based writer originally from Cincinnati. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Chatham University. Currently, she works in Student Affairs and as adjunct faculty. When she's not working, writing, or curled up with a good book, Amanda can usually be found in the kitchen whipping up something delicious, sprawled out on her yoga mat, or off on a run.

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