The basics: When a fire breaks out during Sports Day at the elementary school where her son, Adam, attends, Grace realizes her daughter Jenny is still inside and rushes in to save her. Soon, Grace and Jenny are both unconscious in the hospital, but they work together in their out of body experience to figure out who started the fire and why. Also on the case is Grace's sister-in-law, Sarah, a police officer.
My thoughts: I expected Afterwards to be a very different novel than Sister, but I was still surprised just how different Afterwards was. It's not fair to compare these novels simply because they were written by the same author, but given my disparate levels of enjoyment and the differences between their quality, it is somewhat inevitable. In fact, I might have abandoned this book if I hadn't been fascinated by Sister.
While there is a mystery and a sense of imminent danger at the heart of Afterwards, it is far too buried under Grace's narration, which constantly reminds the reader how strong a mother's love is and which buries observations under the redundancy of her emotions. As the novel went on, my eyes started rolling at every passage about motherhood. I'm not a mother, but if and when I am, I hope I won't singularly define myself as one as Grace does. I hope I can ponder other things and not need to constantly think about how much I love my children. Perhaps I'm being unfair, as in that situtation--one child unconscious and another shutting the world out--how could you not feel helpless and want to do something instead of being hooked up to a respirator? Although realistic, this single-minded narration was dreadfully boring and obscured the mystery, which on its own was quite intriguing. If reading a book about the strength of a mother's love entices you, then you will love this novel.
At the heart of my issues with this book is certainly my dislike of Grace, which steadily increased throughout the novel. I longed for Jenny to get to share the narration. As a seventeen-year-old girl, her perspective would have been a welcome change, and I think it would have added a layer to the mystery. How honest was her ghost with her mother? It was also frustrating Jenny could not remember the events directly before the fire, which would have solved much of the mystery early. As Grace droned on about a mother's love, Jenny held the answers, and I think her perspective would have been more interesting.
While the concept of out of body-ness is taken as a given in this otherwise realistic novel, it felt natural and provided some interesting observations about life:
"The problem with being "out of body" is that you don't need to take a breath for new sentences and so there are no natural physical pauses."These moments were intriguing, and while I accepted the conceit of Grace and Jenny roaming the grounds of the hospital while their bodies were unconscious, as the novel wore on, my skepticism grew. Lupton opted to focus so much more on the relationships than the mystery, and by the time novel got to its twists, some of which were more surprising than others, I didn't really care. I no longer thought of these characters as people and had lost my faith in Lupton's story.
Favorite passage: "And the sum of our marriage was bigger than our differences."
The verdict: Despite an intriguing premise Afterwards was hindered by its length and single-minded focus on the boundlessness of a mother's love. Beneath it all, there was an intriguing mystery, but by the end of the novel, I cared more about finishing ir than if there would be one more twist.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: April 24, 2012
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours and Net Galley
Want to read it for yourself? Buy Afterwards from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.) Not convinced? Check out other stops on the book tour. Swapna loved it.
Learn more about Rosamund Lupton: visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
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