The Regrets – Book Review by Asha Seth

Review Available on: Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

Author: Amy Bonnaffons| Genre: Paranormal, Romance | Pages: 296

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For weeks, Rachel has been noticing the same golden-haired young man sitting at her Brooklyn bus stop, staring off with a melancholy air. When, one day, she finally musters the courage to introduce herself, the chemistry between them is undeniable: Thomas is wise, witty, handsome, mysterious, clearly a kindred spirit. There’s just one tiny problem: He’s dead.

Stuck in a surreal limbo governed by bureaucracy, Thomas is unable to “cross over” to the afterlife until he completes a 90-day stint on earth, during which time he is forbidden to get involved with a member of the living — lest he incur “regrets.” When Thomas and Rachel break this rule, they unleash a cascade of bizarre, troubling consequences.

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***This is a dark novel. It would affect you in ways hard to imagine.***

Launched a few months back this year, ‘The Regrets’ became quite a sensation in the reading fraternities across the globe. I wanted to see the how and why, and well, yes, to a certain extent, I was quite taken by the premise of a living falling in love with a dead being and what’s next? 

Some people you remember forever, because they were way too weird for you to ever forget them. It’s pretty much the same with books. And that is one reason why, no matter what I read and how hard I try to forget this one, I know I won’t.

The protagonist, Rachel, is lonely, without a real relationship, in years. Thomas has returned to earth but is prohibited from living a real life. You ask why? Well, because he is dead, and this grace period of three months is only a layover before he returns. The one thing he is not supposed to do, and we know that’s exactly what he’ll end up doing. Isn’t the Forbidden fruit so very tempting?

There is a danger to daydreaming. It’s not that the daydream bears too little relationship to reality. It’s the opposite: the daydream can create reality. It can become so powerful that it transforms the face of the world, then encounters its own image and falls in love with itself.

Together, they get intertwined into, not only a short-lived odd relationship but a devastating catastrophe none have experienced before. As Thomas nears the end of his time, he starts to fade and then totally disappears. There are times, Rachel returns home to an empty house and makes love to an invisible man. The time they share together, she terms as the best life has given her. This relationship and its feels make her more alive than she has felt in years. 

How do I describe the feeling of being held by an angel? Imagine the most transcendent, God-soaked music you’ve ever heard, then imagine yourself inside that music, imagine yourself being that music. Or think of the best orgasm you’ve ever had and imagine that it’s taking place not just below your waist but in every cell of your body, all four chambers of your heart, even your eyelashes, even your fingernails. Imagine heroin, if it helps; I hear that’s pretty great. Anyhow, imagine this: everything gone except pure pleasure, utter wholeness.

Of course, Rachel lives an alienated life. She has abandoned her close friends too, because she can’t ever explain Thomas to them; lest they term her crazy. But soon she starts to feel the gap, the nothingness, the lack of sensory bliss one craves, and in its truest sense the ghost of Thomas starts to haunt her. The realisation hits hard when her ex-flame Mark comes into the picture. Now she is clear she is done with the weirdness of her weird decisions, and ready to say good bye to Thomas and claim her normal life back. But the point is, is Thomas ready?

Now, though, I could touch Rachel everywhere and still not touch her at all. This paradox incited my keenest colonial impulses: every movement created new pockets of emptiness, calling out to be conquered and occupied. The horizon of her body was always receding, even as she submitted herself, over and over and over. It drove me crazy.

This was writer Amy Bonnaffons’ first work I read and I must say, I am totally impressed with her writing. The plot here was a strong one, the prose beautiful too. The concept is rare. But somewhere between all the senseless sexual escapades, I lost interest of the story. If love is what these two had, it is the most twisted fucked up love story, in my opinion. I couldn’t help thinking that it is an allegory in disguise but the way it is portrayed could’ve been better. 

The characters seemed too bored of themselves and couldn’t keep up my enthusiasm going either. I guess that was because somewhere after 100 pages the narration just dragged a lot. A lot more emphasis was laid on their daily routine and how Rachel gradually got bored of Thomas and his incapabilities being a ghost.

As for Thomas, he felt like groping for whatever more life he could; even if that came at the expense of abusing the protagonist, physically and psychologically. Thomas is unarguably one of the most complex characters I’ve come across in a while.

“I didn’t have a name for the thing that was shaking me as though I might shatter, as though I had already shattered; it was too late, I would never get my old self back. I would never be able to recall its current expansiveness back into its former finitude. I might be condemned to this openness forever.” 

Toward the end of the book, the prose swerves into a dark tunnel with no light at the end of it. Rachel tumbles into the grave and is hardly able to come to her own rescue. Mark is her anchor. This dark twist was unexpected and the way it hit me, I could barely breathe for some time. The sensation gripped me yet hard when the mood of the novel changed drastically from paranormal romance to savagery to oceanic disturbing. 

You’ll learn, the hard way, that death is not a disease that others can catch from you. Instead, it makes you the disease. Once death has happened to you, it never stops happening. The more you resist it, the harder it rides you. This is how you become a haunt: skittish and terrified, you grasp after something that no longer belongs to you. You grasp after life. Like a vampire, or a cannibal, you attach to the life of another. You inhale, you swallow.

For spanning a little over three months in the life of our protagonist, this book is a whirlwind of experiences, emotions, and desperate attempts. You’re left with varied feelings for this book that is but one great monologue from the life of a character who falls in love, suffers partial loss of identity, escapes an abusive relationship, and fights for the normal. There is some consolation that she emerges a victor but pretty disappointing the way she does it.

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It’s philosophical, it’s metaphorical, it’s macabre, it’s vocal, it’s anticipatory, it’s disturbing. All that said, it does not change the fact that I failed to fall in love with either of the characters. Parts of the story have stayed with me, and other parts faded all too soon. I loved the writing though. Bonnaffons’ diction is refreshing. I did learn a thing or two from her writing. Some phrases drove me home and I made a note of them. It is worth a read if you can stomach disturbing narratives with bittersweet packaging.

‘The Regrets’ is all about the things we know we shouldn’t allow ourselves, things we ought to stay away from, and yet we do. Fall straight for the forbidden fruit, we always do. Ask why? You’ve probably done it too. 

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Have you read ‘The Regrets’? How did you like it? Share your thoughts in comments below.

Happy reading till we meet next.

Until then, carpe diem! 🙂

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© Asha Seth

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