Afterwards, Rosamund Lupton

Monday, March 25, 2013

Last week, I was at a conference for reading teachers in Springfield, IL.  One of the vendors in the exhibit hall, Anderson's Books (a great independent bookstore in Naperville, IL, in case you happen to be local), had some reader-centric t-shirts in their booth.  I came home with these two...

But there was another one that I plan to get, that expresses a sentiment I have always felt.  Namely, that authors are my rock stars.  I never ceased to be amazed at the ability of good writers to create whole new worlds, or to shine a light so starkly on the world we already live in.  After thousands of years of the written word, the fact that there can still be anything literarily new or original is mind-blowing.  

In this spirit, I eagerly picked up Afterwards, by Rosamund Lupton, in preparation for my book club last month.  We had already read her book Sister, which engendered a great discussion about whether we agreed with the use of the literary device she employed.  In that book, the story is told in what we think is a letter to the main character's sister, only to discover that the while conversation is taking place in the main character's mind.  Lupton tried out a different narrative structure this time.  For Afterwards, which is essentially a mystery just like Sister, she placed the narrator and her daughter in a limbo state, stuck between life and death, able to observe what was happening to them and their loved ones without really being able to interact with them.

Afterwards begins with the narrator, a 40ish year old mother named Grace, realizing that her daughter is trapped in a burning school.  She rushes in to save her...and the next thing she is aware of is being in the hospital, looking down on her own comatose body lying in a hospital bed.  Her 17 year old daughter Jenny, who was horribly burned in the fire, is also in a coma, and together they start wandering the hospital, trying to find out what has happened to them.  It soon becomes apparent that each woman is in critical condition.  It also become apparent that their injuries are not the result of a tragic accident, but arson.  Grace and Jenny spend the rest of the novel alternately dealing with their own rather bumpy relationship, or tagging along with other characters who are actually living in the world as they try to solve the mystery.

And that is where Lupton lost me a bit.  Because was seemed like an interesting plot device at the beginning soon got rather tired.  Because the fact is that as much as Grace may follow her husband as he tries to keep them safe, or her sister-in-law the police officer as she investigates the fire, she can't actually DO anything.  Except have conversations with people that they can't hear, or discover clues that she can't tell anyone.  And as the book progresses, it becomes more and more sentimental, to the point that I was actually slightly annoyed by the resolution not of the mystery, which had be guessing until almost the end, but of the novel's other major plotline, that of whether Grace or Jenny can be saved.  I won't say that I didn't enjoy reading this book, because it kept me engaged throughout.  But I found myself reading faster and faster as the end approached, and not necessarily because I wanted to find out whodunnit-I was ready for it to be over.

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