Lou Suffern is a successful businessman who works too hard, drinks too much, drives too fast, neglects his children and cheats on his wife. One day on his way into the office, Lou sees a beggar sitting on the sidewalk. He feels compelled to stop, give the guy a cup of coffee, and strike up a conversation with this homeless man who introduces himself as Gabe. His name is not a coincidence. Gabe makes such an impression on Lou that by the end of the day, Lou has given him a job. Lou is both fascinated and fearful of Gabe. The mysterious man, who seems to have the ability to be everywhere at once, both inspires and convicts Lou, like a conscience Lou has never had.
Lou’s determined ruthlessness leads him on a downward spiral. He hits bottom when he disappoints his entire family on his father’s 70th birthday. Though resistant to Gabe’s advice, Lou slowly begins to understand what is most important in life, specifically relationships with family. The gift, as implied in the title, is the gift of time, a present from Gabe to Lou, in the form of a bottle of magic pills. The pills allow Lou to clone himself and be in two places at once. With the first pill, Lou attends two business meetings in one evening, brokering two major deals for his company. The next morning, Lou’s coworkers hail him a hero and he’s given a coveted promotion. Another pill allows him to go sailing with his brother while at the same time ice skating with his wife and two young children. And a third pill allows for the bittersweet conclusion.
The story is set in modern day Dublin in the days leading up to Christmas. Ahern beautifully describes the city’s Christmas lights and decorations and the holiday hustle and bustle. It’s narrated by Raphael O’Reilly, a police officer on duty Christmas morning. He tells Lou’s tale to a fourteen-year-old boy who’s been detained for throwing a frozen turkey through the window of his estranged father’s house.
Near the end of the story, the plot becomes apparent and the reader can hardly bear to read on. Though Lou is initially a jerk, the reader cheers him on from the armchair as his transformation unfolds. Like the Grinch, Lou’s heart swells as he realizes he is a stranger to his children and he begins to enjoy spending time with them. We feel his heart melt as he looks at his wife and discovers he’d forgotten how beautiful she is. Though predictable, this poignant story concludes with an interesting plot twist.
Ahern ends her well-written book with a touching tribute to time.
Each second makes its mark on every single person’s life – comes and then goes, quietly disappearing without fanfare, evaporating into air like steam from a piping hot Christmas pudding. Enough time leaves us warm; when our time is gone, it leaves us cold. Time is more precious than gold, more precious than diamonds, more precious than oil or any valuable treasure. It is time of which we do not have enough; it is time that causes war within our hearts, and so we must spend it wisely. Time cannot be packaged and ribboned and left under trees for Christmas morning. Time can’t be given. But it can be shared.
And isn’t that every person’s story?
Cecelia Ahern is the bestselling author of PS: I Love You. The Gift was published in the U.S. in hardcover in 2009 and is being re-released in paperback on October 25, 2011, just in time for the holidays. It includes discussion questions, making this book a great choice for book clubs.