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After You'd Gone (2000)

by Maggie O'Farrell

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1,0715113,632 (3.88)102
A distraught young woman boards a train at King's Cross to return to her family in Scotland. Six hours later, she catches sight of something so terrible in a mirror at Waverley Station that she gets on the next train back to London, where a traffic accident leaves her in a coma. AFTER YOU'D GONE follows Alice's mental journey into how she came to be this way, as she twists together threads of memory in a plot that grips from the outset. It is a love story which is also a story of absence - we discover that Alice's lover, John, has been dead for a year by the time the book starts - and of parental legacies: how actions and choices can reverberate in following generations. Slowly, we are drawn closer to a dark secret at the family's heart, as Alice begins to wonder whether she will ever be whole again, or even survive.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Another winner from Maggie O'Farrell.

Alice Raikes is a volatile and unsettled young woman living in London. On the spur of the moment she hops on a train to her family in Scotland and meets her sisters at the station in Edinburgh, planning to continue to her parents' home that afternoon. But at the station she sees something so dreadful that she immediately gets back on a train for London, bewildering her sisters but unable to explain to them. Later that afternoon she's hit by a car and spends the rest of the story in a coma. She is not, however, completely unconscious and is aware of people in the room, and hers is one of the voices that mix together in unexpected ways to tell her story. There's a good reason Alice is miserable, and her family wonders if she tried to kill herself by stepping in front of the car. But there are also family secrets she's uncovered in that brief time in Edinburgh, secrets she needs to think about and decide how to handle, and she uses her time in the coma to work through them.

Nothing more can really be said about the plot without revealing too much. Voices and stories mingle on the page, and in the Kindle version I read, at least, there are no indications that voices and plots were changing midstream, so it needed some getting used to the flow of the book for it become comfortable. In fact I had just about decided to give up when suddenly there was a huge revelation that entirely changed my idea of what the book was about. Luckily I continued, and I can highly recommend the book. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Oct 1, 2020 |
I discovered Maggie O’Farrell last year. Thus far, I’ve read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2019/08/review-of-vanishing-act-of-esme-len...) and Hamnet and Judith (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2020/07/review-of-hamnet-and-judith-by-magg...) and loved them, giving 4 Stars to both. This time I thought I’d return to her debut novel, After You’d Gone. It’s another 4-star book!

The novel focuses on Alice Raikes who for virtually the entire novel is in a coma. While she lies in this non –responsive state, flashbacks are used to tell Alice’s life story, as well as much about the lives of her grandmother Elspeth and her mother Ann.

The prologue grabs the reader’s attention, beginning with its first sentence: “The day she would try to kill herself, she realised winter was coming again.” Then a few pages later, “she saw something so odd and unexpected and sickening that it was as if she’d glanced in the mirror to discover that her face was not the one she thought she had. Alice looked, and it seemed to her that what she saw undercut everything she had left. And everything that had gone before.” As a result of what she sees, she waits for traffic to start across an intersection and “The soles of Alice’s shoes peeled away from the tarmac, and she stepped off the kerb.” And that’s just the prologue!

So there’s a mystery throughout: what did Alice see that influenced her to commit suicide? I guessed what she saw about a third of the way through, but had to read to the end to have my suspicion confirmed. But the book is more than just a mystery; it is also a family saga. Alice’s relationships with her mother and grandmother are detailed; both women keep a major secret intended to protect the family.

The book is also a romance, a genre I generally try to avoid. In this book, however, the romance between Alice and John Friedmann didn’t leave me rolling my eyes. John is immediately attracted to Alice and is determined to win her over despite her reluctance. A deep passion develops but there is a major obstacle. The title suggests that John is gone, but what happens is not revealed until three-quarters of the way.

The structure of the book is complex. It has multiple points of view and voices. It moves back and forth between the present and various time periods in the past. Both first and third person narrations are used. No breaks are used to indicate a change in time frame or point of view, but I quickly became accustomed to the shifts and actually enjoyed working out the specifics of time and place. Reading the book can feel like putting together a mystery jigsaw puzzle.

Readers will find themselves emotionally involved. There are scenes that are hilarious like the one in the hotel where Alice and John have agreed to meet. And then there are the heart-breaking scenes. The novel excels at portraying loss and the “huge, crushing weight of grief”: “Yes, life fucking well goes on but what if you don’t want it to? What if you want to arrest it, stop it, or even battle against the current into a past you don’t want to be past?”

There are several strong elements worthy of mention. Characterization is one of them. The three women are complex characters. All are flawed so I found myself sometimes angry and frustrated with someone and then feeling sympathy for her. And then there’s the lyrical prose: “Edinburgh was steeped in a coagulating damp and mist; whenever Elspeth tried to conjure her childhood there she envisaged wet, slicked streets at dusk, veiled with sheets of feathery rain and gray buildings.” And look out for repeated references to mirrors and hair, the latter even alluded to indirectly by mention of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”.

The ending left me wanting more. My only consolation is that I have five more Maggie O’Farrell novels left to read!

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Aug 17, 2020 |
Maggie O’Farrell’s first novel explores issues of family, their secrets, love and grief. Another of her books that is not written as a linear narrative but instead slips back and forwards in time. Not my preferred style but she does it well, perhaps to show how memories appear but it also adds to building the mystery of the story. Recommended. ( )
  Mercef | Jul 19, 2020 |
A bit bleak and protracted, I didn't enjoy it as much as her other books that I have read ( )
  karenshann | Dec 31, 2019 |
A beautiful story of love and loss, although the changing time periods, several times within a chapter, were somewhat confusing. ( )
  HelenBaker | Jan 19, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
Whatever has happened, happens always
-- Andrew Greig

The past falls open anywhere
-- Michael Donaghy
Dedication
To my mother
for not being like Alice's
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The day she would try to kill herself, she realised winter was coming again.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A distraught young woman boards a train at King's Cross to return to her family in Scotland. Six hours later, she catches sight of something so terrible in a mirror at Waverley Station that she gets on the next train back to London, where a traffic accident leaves her in a coma. AFTER YOU'D GONE follows Alice's mental journey into how she came to be this way, as she twists together threads of memory in a plot that grips from the outset. It is a love story which is also a story of absence - we discover that Alice's lover, John, has been dead for a year by the time the book starts - and of parental legacies: how actions and choices can reverberate in following generations. Slowly, we are drawn closer to a dark secret at the family's heart, as Alice begins to wonder whether she will ever be whole again, or even survive.

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