The book is released in New Zealand on 1 July 2011
As a fan of Donna Tartt (who famously took ten years between her first book, The Secret History and her second, The Little Friend) I was surprised to find that
Rosemary Rosamund* Lupton’s second book Afterwards was to be published in New Zealand just eight or so months after her first.
It’s difficult not to compare this book to her first; the well-received Sister. How well received? Accolades for the former book covered no less than three pages/inside covers in Afterwards, with a teaser chapter at the end too. And fair enough – Sister had my heart racing – it had complex woven storylines, a great ‘who dunnit’ twist and enough detail and character development to keep me thinking about the book and eager to return to reading it at any chance.
Afterwards is another who dunnit. This time the premise is that a daughter and mother are hurt in a school fire and living as spirits in the hospital, they follow the daily activities of their friends and family in a quest to find truth. To quote the synopsis:
“Black smoke stains a summer blue sky. A school is on fire. And one mother, Grace, sees the smoke and rushes. She knows her teenage daughter Jenny is inside. She runs into the burning building to rescue her.
“Afterwards Grace must find the identity of the arsonist and protect her children from the person who’s still intent on destroying them. Afterwards, she must fight the limits of her physical strength and discover the limitlessness of love.”
Sister and Afterwards aren’t the type of books I usually read but I found both generally well-written and interesting. But while Afterwards kept me occupied until the end I wasn’t gripped by the characters and storylines like I was in Sister. I found the character device of the spirit-people to be believable.
However, while the device removed Grace and her mother from being directly physically involved, I felt that it also keep me as a reader at a distance from this novel.
There were also a couple of things within the book that grated as I read. The description of having to reach through a child’s aura to pat their head overstepped the mark for me. I can accept the mother and daughter spirits but I can’t accept this introduction of new-ageism and felt cynical towards it. Was that really what the author wrote? It seemed entirely out of step with her direct, smart approach to words – or was it a late edition to appeal to a certain audience?
Also, within the novel one of the characters stops talking. Almost at the end of the book they begin to speak again – but the page before (when they’re still not talking) one of their relatives describes a conversation they’d had that day. That editing oversight almost ruined the book for me. I read it, turned the page, turned back, read it again… just to be sure.
Afterwards is a good, generally enjoyable read (three/five stars for me) that would suit people fond of crime fiction and bestsellers. However, if I had a choice to recommend either Afterwards or Sister I’d pick Sister every time.
by Rosemary Lupton
Published by Piatkus Books
Reviewed by Emma McCleary, Web Editor for Booksellers New Zealand
*thanks to Candice for her correction of the author’s name on 7 July 2011 in the comments below.