When I read the blurb for this book it reminded me of an episode of one of my favourite TV shows growing up, Round the Twist. Paul Jennings was one of my favourite authors and I loved encountering the unexpected in his stories. He wrote the episode, Spaghetti Pig Out, where a main character finds a remote control that can pause, fast forward or rewind anything or anyone it’s aimed at. This coincides with a spaghetti eating competition and the school bully just so happens to find out about the remote before the competition begins. Naturally he decides to use the remote control to attempt to win the competition, with amusing and quite disgusting results. I loved that episode! Anyway, I digress.
I was intrigued by this book’s blurb. Arlo can reverse whatever he just did. Imagine the possibilities. The mistakes you could fix. The pain you could undo. Who hasn’t imagined what they’d do if they had their life to live all over again. If only …
This book begins at Part 6! I loved that! Given Arlo’s ability to reverse actions it was the perfect touch for me; simple but so smart. I also appreciated the simplicity of the chapter headings, guiding me through Arlo’s life by telling me the age he was during the events of each chapter.
I’m currently surrounded by a constellation of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ reviews so am keenly aware that I’m an outlier where this book’s concerned. I absolutely adored the concept, which reminded me not only of the TV series you’ve probably never heard of but also The Butterfly Effect and Groundhog Day. I even thought I could detect small traces of Final Destination.
The first problem was that I really didn’t like Arlo from the beginning. At all. He was arrogant, self centred, immature and lacked empathy. I don’t generally mind not liking characters and I’m usually fairly enthusiastic about loving to hate certain characters, but when the main character is so obnoxious I find it harder to care what happens to them. Sure, Arlo does grow as a character, some of the things I hated about him aren’t as prominent as his story progresses and some positive attributes emerge, but he never became someone I’d want to have a conversation with.
When he begins using his ability, power, gift, curse, genetic abnormality or whatever else you may want to call it, I found myself fairly consistently pleading with him not to be a cliché and then rolling my eyes as he gambled, womanised or otherwise disappointed me. Thankfully he does eventually find more interesting and varied ways to manipulate people and circumstances but the majority of these manipulations are ego driven.
While I learned the facts of a number of characters’ lives I didn’t connect emotionally with anyone. I was definitely interested in finding out more about several but my interest never extended far enough for me to worry about their future or consider reaching for a tissue if their lives encountered anything resembling tragedy. Given my propensity to ugly cry while reading, I was surprised by my lack of emotion.
I found Arlo’s story too drawn out for my liking and found myself getting bored early on. By the end of Part 6 (remember, this was the first part in this novel) I would have abandoned it if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it and temporarily set it aside to read another book before picking it back up again. Had I not continued I would have missed out on the final part, which I found intriguing but predictable. As I was reading I kept thinking that there was only one possible way for this book to end. Nevertheless, I anticipated and hoped for a blindside, but it didn’t happen.
If you enjoy novels that are more character driven, where you experience the excitement and the mundane throughout the years with a flawed main character, you’ll probably really enjoy this book. I expect it will be a popular book club choice, given the questions of morality, philosophy and psychology that it raises. I’d encourage you to check out some ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ reviews as well before deciding if this book is for you or not.
Content warnings include death by suicide.
Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group (UK), for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
What if your life had an ‘undo’ button?
Arlo Knott discovers he can rewind time – just by a minute or two – enough to undo any mistake, say the right thing or impress his friends with his uncanny predictions …
But second chances aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. As wonderful as his new life is, a mistake in Arlo’s traumatic childhood still haunts him and the temptation to undo, undo and keep undoing could be too much to resist.