Monday, July 23, 2012

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

We’ve all heard stories of people leaving their bodies during near-death experiences, but the departure is usually brief, consisting of a ceiling-level view of one’s own surgery. In Afterwards, Rosamund Lupton takes this concept and runs with it, imagining the aftermath of a terrible fire at an elementary school in which a teenager and her mother receive life-threatening injuries.

Grace awakens in the hospital and sees her body lying on the bed, head swathed in bandages, life support machines beeping away. She can’t affect the world around her, only observe it, and she soon finds her daughter Jenny in the same condition. The two of them become watchers: observing their family’s grief and refusal to give up hope, observing the efforts of the police to discover who or what really caused the fire. Their dialogue is often light, in counterpoint to the emotionally fraught situation and the violent memories aroused by reconstructing the fire. The movement of the book is not only toward the solution of the mystery of the fire, but toward the resolution of the two lives in this temporary purgatory.

Tearjerker factor: extremely high. The family has a little boy, and his grief and confusion are hard to bear. Frankly, I don’t usually enjoy reading family dramas for just that reason. I picked this one up for the suspense, and the family drama turned out to be not a secondary plot but an equally strong thread. I’m not sure I would read it again, because it’s so heart-wrenching, but it sure made for a crazy, stay-up-til-2 a.m. page-turner of a novel. And Afterwards is extremely well-written, just the right telling details revealing so much about the characters and the families involved. British author Lupton also wrote the award-winning mystery Sister.

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