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Reviews of The Heavens by Sandra Newman

The Heavens

by Sandra Newman

The Heavens by Sandra Newman X
The Heavens by Sandra Newman
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 272 pages

    Nov 2019, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

Transporting the reader between a richly detailed past and a frighteningly possible future, The Heavens is a powerful reminder of the consequences of our actions, a poignant testament to how the people we love are destined to change, and a masterful exploration of the power of dreams.

New York, late summer, 2000. A party in a spacious Manhattan apartment, hosted by a wealthy young activist. Dozens of idealistic twenty-somethings have impassioned conversations over takeout dumplings and champagne. The evening shines with the heady optimism of a progressive new millennium. A young man, Ben, meets a young woman, Kate - and they begin to fall in love.

From their first meeting, Ben knows Kate is unworldly and fanciful, so at first he isn't that concerned when she tells him about the recurring dream she's had since childhood. In the dream, she's transported to the past, where she lives a second life as Emilia, the mistress of a nobleman in Elizabethan England.

But for Kate, the dream becomes increasingly real and compelling until it threatens to overwhelm her life. And soon she's waking from it to find the world changed - pictures on her wall she doesn't recognize, new buildings in the neighborhood that have sprung up overnight. As she tries to make sense of what's happening, Ben worries the woman he's fallen in love with is losing her grip on reality.


The first few weeks of being in love: what magic had meant to him when he was a child, what he'd wanted when he'd dreamed about riding a dragon. Everything was that different. Just Kate's face looking up and seeing him. He'd walk across a dive bar to her smile and then her hand in his that made his body ignite with pleasure. He felt it in his feet. On the wall behind her, a framed vintage advertisement for the Tour de France was blessed, was alive and significant. Sexual. Nothing could be this good again, and already the scrambling vertigo of that. Of clinging to this thin moment that wouldn't cling back.

The fear when he glanced at her casually and felt nothing. The relief when she smiled and was amazing again.

Or she might just leave you.

Ben had a job at an energy-industry journal, a job he downplayed and treated as a stopgap embarrassment but secretly liked. He rewrote press releases. He had spats with his editor and drank ten coffees. He attended conferences in Pittsburgh ...

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BookBrowse Review


The Heavens is the kind of novel that almost demands multiple readings, and certainly merits intense discussion. Newman raises questions about the kinds of stories we tell, about the (perhaps dangerous) human tendency to cast ourselves as the heroes of the stories we inhabit, about whether the human condition is evolving for the better…or otherwise. It's also a masterful and heart-rending novel of 9/11, one that takes an entirely different approach to telling that familiar story, placing it in the context of a seemingly unrelated historical context that nevertheless makes perfect sense...continued

Full Review (668 words)

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[A] strange and beautiful hybrid... I woke from The Heavens as I hope to emerge from any work of fiction: moved and unsettled, a new and intoxicating set of questions alight on the mind’s horizon.

Special books are Sandra Newman’s specialty, and The Heavens is no exception...If you decide to delve into it, Newman will take you on quite a ride through her vivid imagination.

The Guardian
There are some writers whose prose is nothing short of electrifying: it pings and crackles off the page...In her fourth novel, The Heavens, Newman’s sparky sensibility is given the grandest of backdrops...Newman’s genius lies in balancing these timelines and world so finely that the whole thing is seamless—not to mention lots of fun. The narrative darts around deftly and the bursts of archaic language are playful and tender...The novel is a study of creativity—its importance and worth, but also how it separates creators from their loved ones.”

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A complex, unmissable work from a writer who deserves wide acclaim.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A thought-provoking, head-spinning fever dream of a novel; highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Newman's novel expertly marries historical and contemporary, plumbing the rich, all-too-human depths of present-day New York and early modern England, and racing toward a well-executed peak. But it's the evolution of Kate and Ben's relationship that serves as the book's emotional anchor, making for a fantastic, ingenious novel.

In this tender love story, Newman ponders the impact of individual action on the world as she creates alternative universes, realities, even endings ... Provocative.

Author Blurb Adam Foulds, author of The Quickening Maze
Unique and brilliant, I tore through The Heavens and I loved it. It is a house made of trapdoors, where dreams are real and reality a dream. Through this strange labyrinth of 21st century New York and Renaissance England, it is love which deftly, movingly, finds the way.

Author Blurb Catherine Lacey, author of The Answers and Certain American States
An elegant and untamed novel that illuminates the soft edges between love, madness, idealism, and the narrative power of the unconscious mind.

Author Blurb Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck & Other Stories and Bowlaway
Reading Sandra Newman's The Heavens is like falling up a brilliant flight of stairs. Inventive and moving and surprising on every level, it's a novel that doesn't just play with time and history and certainty: it turns those things inside out. I've been haunted by its characters and ideas ever since I reluctantly finished it.

Author Blurb M. John Harrison, author of Light and You Should Come With Me Now
The Heavens, shifting restlessly between worlds, gently encouraging Elizabethan England into eccentric New York, rolling everything into a dreamy, desperate new reality, is everything we expect from Sandra Newman. It's strange but focused, beautifully written and put together, dangerously benign, comic and clever, bright as a knife.

Author Blurb Olivia Laing, author of Crudo
I was bewitched by the ambition and charge of Sandra Newman's time-slip narrative, which is at once troubling and beautiful, emotionally resonant and fantastically strange.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Time-Slip Novels

Spiral ClockThe Heavens is not an easy novel to categorize, but on at least one level, it participates in a category of fantasy literature called a "time-slip" novel, in which a character travels between two or more separate timelines. The mechanism for the shift in time varies, but can be reading letters, doing research, traveling through a doorway or portal – or falling asleep and dreaming. Here are a few other notable time-slip novels:

The Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
In this novel, an archaeological dig in modern-day France offers a connection to a secret buried nearly a millennium before.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This popular historical romance (also an equally popular television series) finds a 20th century woman transported two ...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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