After finishing Lovecraft Country I struggled to immediately focus on another book, so I got one of my mum’s photography books, Slant Rhymes. It had cleared my head enough for me to start roaming the bookshelves in search of something to read and that’s how I came across After You’d Gone. We must have bought it during one of our summer trips, because it still has an euro price tag.
I liked the book a lot, but it is not an easy book to review, hence I’ve been postponing writing this. Alice Raikes, our main character, is in the coma through most of the book, after stepping off the pavement under a car, an act that may have not been accidental. To find out what happened we are thrown into different layers of Alice’s and her family past. The narration is not continuous it is more dream-like or like it probably would be if we were asked to remember the crucial moment of our lives, they do not come back to us chronologically. One thing we know almost from the beginning is that Alice saw something when she was in Edinburgh, something that shook her badly. As the story unravels we learn a lot more about Alice’s family, we get to understand her mother and her father’s mother. We’re exposed to the complicated relationships of those three women and what had shaped them. O’Farrell makes us travel in time, throughout the country, but also makes us sympathize with three very different characters, each damaged in their own way, and each damaging the others, even if unwillingly.
The pervasive feeling is one of loss, just like in life every single character has lost something extremely important to them and they deal with this loss in different ways. They all struggle to understand, to cope and to move on, or in some cases to actually not move on, to stay to keep the memories alive. There is a lot of love and sorrow in this book, it may seem overly emotional from my description, but O’Farrell’s prose prevent that. It evokes the dreamy quality, the slight disjoint we experience when dreaming, which makes total given Alice’s state.
It’s a book about how it is impossible to deal with loss and yet we all do. How time and love can help, but are not magic cures, and how our decisions reverberate in the lives of others.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska