I came to discover Afterwards thanks to a blitzkrieg of emails in my inbox courtesy of Amazon.
‘Can’t put down’
Amazon beckoned day after day.
Message received Amazon. I’m in.
Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Afterwards is told from the perspective of the spirit or ghost of a thirty-nine year-old woman currently in a coma after being caught in an arson-lit fire that destroyed her eight year-old son’s school. Her seventeen year-old daughter was also injured in the fire and her spirit converses with that of her mother throughout this tale. The use of the spiritual or supernatural has to be carefully constructed in any piece of fiction. The slightest hint of the ridiculous will turn most readers (including me) away. If you are put off by the absurdity of the premise in Afterwards, don’t be. Having the mother narrate from this unique perspective actually works wonderfully and allows Lupton an opportunity to create a broader narrative than she would have otherwise. In that sense, it reminded me of Alice Sebold’s haunting The Lovely Bones. Sebold’s Susie is trying to solve the mystery of her murder. So too is Lupton’s Grace trying to solve the mystery of who would want to burn down her son’s school, and indeed, hurt her daughter. In some ways, this novel is also a thriller. However, perhaps it is better that I say that this novel is in itself, thrilling.
But that’s where the similarities between Afterwards and The Lovely Bones end. Grace is ‘speaking’ to her husband. In this, another layer to this tale is added and it becomes a heart-breaking love story. Grace reminisces as she tries to reach out to her husband and indeed the peaks and troughs of a modern marriage are exposed. The reader is exposed to an imperfect marriage but one that is brimming with love.
I have to admit, I am prone to shedding the odd tear or two and Afterwards did produce some tissue-grabbing moments. The narrative is told at a fantastic pace and I do wonder if Lupton’s background as a screenwriter comes into play here (nice pun!). There are no waffling or tedious sentences. The story is told succinctly and brilliantly, unravelling just enough to keep the reader turning the page.