Afterwards: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton
Crown, ISBN 978-0307716545
April 24, 2012, 400 pages
"A figure is hurrying along the burns unit corridor. For some reason, I think of the shadowy figure on the edge of the playing field.
He's going towards Jenny's side ward.
He goes in, and through the half open doorway I see his shape bending over her.
I scream, making no sound."
Well, you see, the problem is, she is in a coma.
It started as a lovely day, a sports day at her young son's school and his birthday as well, and Grace Covey is there, along with many of the parents, helping out. It is a family affair, because her teenage daughter Jenny is in the school, working as a medical helper.
But then it all turns horribly wrong.
Grace sees black smoke billowing from the building and runs toward the school, searching for her children. She is relieved to see her son, safe outside, but realizing her daughter is still inside, she runs into the burning building. When she next realizes what is happening, they are both in the hospital, her daughter very badly burned and on a ventilator and she is in a coma, suffering from severe head trauma, possibly brain dead.
But she is outside her body, in some sort of unexplained spirit state, soon joined by the spirit of her daughter. So begins a rather unusual attempt to help solve the mystery of what happen.
Because, as is soon clear, the fire was not an accident.
They can travel around the hospital, and in Grace's case even go outside, in cars to her home, see and hear her husband, see her son or accompany her sister-in-law, a police officer doing her own investigation into the crime, as she questions people, but they are both helpless to intervene. No one can hear them and they have no way to share what they know or think, especially as her daughter starts to remember bits of what happened, not even as her own son comes under suspicion.
Who could have committed this crime? There is no lack of suspects and no lack of motives, financial and personal, even that one involving her own son. And it seems that the threat might not yet be over, as it appears that someone is still trying to kill her daughter. Which is rather pointless beacuse it is soon clear that if Jenny's damage body does not get a heart transplant, she will die from her injuries within weeks. How far will a mother's love go to save her?
I did not read the author’s previous book, Sister, but it got some great reviews, as did this book, so I was very hopeful when I started it. Well, there is good news...and there is bad.
Let's take the bad first, to end on a higher note.
I thought I would have a problem with the basic premise, that the story is told by a woman in some sort of undefined spirit state, but oddly enough that worked for me quite well. We are left to our own understanding of what is going on with Grace and Jenny and that is fine, especially since they do not understand it themselves, but are just learning as they go along. However, one way that the author did this, by having the narrator, Grace, always talk in the second person, did not. She will be listening into a conversation…something that made up a large part of the book and she will refer to "You". Wait, which "you"… just who is she referring to? This person, that person? ..and the reader must try to figure it out from the context. That gets old very fast and it was very, very confusing at time.
And quite honestly, I became quite tired of Jill. She becomes, as the book progresses, more and more unlikable, more and more self righteous in her love for her family . As the Kirkus Book Review so perfectly said it the book suffers from "the sense of suffocation that can arise from Grace's Interiorscape". The fact that the book is just too long for the story does not help. A lot of her interior musing could have been cut down with good effects all around, especially in the center..the long center..of the book.
But on the other hand, there is a fair bit to like about this book. The mystery is a good one, with some red herrings, lots of suspects and a good story that come to light in a nice way. And while Grace was not my favorite, a number of the other characters become quite likable, including her sister-in-law Sarah, a woman Grace never much liked before but who really become the book's hero. It seems even at the edge of death, Grace has quite a bit to learn, about her husband and her children, and even about herself. This book is a good mystery, and a good thriller, but it is also a story about friends and family, with a surprisingly moving if not totally surprising, ending. It does not overcome all it's faults, but still leaves us with a good story, a clever story, with a lot to enjoy.