Replay - Ken Grimwood

Have you ever read a book that changed your reading habits?


I have never before read the same book twice in the space of 4 months. Normally a decade or two will pass before I revisit some old favourites. I was on a rare holiday last September when I read this first time round. No other book has stayed with me like this.


Replay tells the story of Jeff Winston, a 43yo stuck in a rut professionally, and living out a loveless marriage at home. He dies of a heart attack at work – only to wake 25 years earlier as an 18yo student, back in 1963. His body is 18, but his mind is 43, and his journalist mind knows much of the ‘future’ he is about to face.


After struggling to cope with this time shift, and the existing relationships he is expected to return to, Jeff starts to see a future that he can shape. Until he is faced with a sobering reality. He can do nothing to prevent the heart attack that strikes him on that fateful day in 1988.


Author Ken Grimwood starts with the obvious fun – generating a bankroll. If you know the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the World Series, you can make some serious coin. And Jeff does! After cleaning out Vegas, he creates a global corporate empire, marries and has a darling daughter, then dies at 43…


As Jeff realises that he is destined to return despite his best efforts, he tries different paths. Starting with his reliable sports bets, he chooses different paths over various replays. From hedonistic sex binges through Europe, to an isolated farm in California, Jeff struggles to find happiness. Then he meets Pamela.


He suspects she is a ‘replayer’ too. When he can finally arrange a meeting with the in-demand Pamela, he knows he is right. She is confused and alarmed, believing she was the only one going through their common experience.


It’s not seamless, but over many replays, Jeff and Pamela live beautiful lives together. They finally have to acknowledge a disturbing fact – each time they ‘replay’, they come back later. Initially, it is only hours, then weeks, then years but with no discernible pattern. Pamela dies 3 weeks earlier each time, but had a family with 2 kids in her first life.


It was crushing to read the temporary end to each replay. Then, to destroy your soul, imagine coming back to the love of your life, but she doesn’t recognise you – she hasn’t ‘replayed’ yet. And that gap only grows.


On first reading, I was largely intrigued. This time round, I was invested from the start. Knowing the ending doesn’t ease the pain, and trust me, it’s best not to imagine yourself in this situation. I am sure that many partners would not be together had they met earlier in life.


This is not a gloom and doom tale, don’t let me give you that idea. There are many concepts for the brain to explore, ethical issues abound, and plenty of joy in the love stories.


Jeff learns that Replay gives you the freedom to do anything you want, and the appalling constraints to do anything you want. You just can’t take it with you…



Side Note - Stephen King’s 11/22/1963 is a similar tale – just takes him an extra 700 pages! After steering clear of King for many years, I was offered a copy just after the first reading of Replay. It felt like an ordeal to get to the end in comparison. I find King can tell a good tale, but his editor is obviously petrified of him. King does credit Grimwood in his book, providing the inspiration for 1963.