Book Review: Afterwards

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
ISBN 9780749942168

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.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: Afterwards

  1. I agree with your review here. I haven’t yet read Sister so I can’t compare, but I generally found this novel rather irritating. Although I like the idea of her watching the investigation unfold through a spirit form, I didn’t find myself attached to the characters. I also found the dialogue lacklustre at times.

    But worst off, in my opinion, was the middle of the book. There just seemed to be so many theories of who was responsible for the fire and very little answers. There seemed to be no clear revelations or boundaries which a book like this needs for cohesion.

    So yes, three/five stars because, overall, the plot-line was good and I did, eventually, acquire the NEED to know ‘who dunnit’.

  2. (Emma) Definitely read Sister – it’s much tighter, much more complex and with a much better twist at the end. I was quite stunned in Afterwards that the who dunnit was resolved so far from the ending. I thought ‘surely that can’t be it?’ Sister is a novel that is thought out and tended whereas Afterwards seems to just try to capitalise on Sister’s good name.

  3. Just a note, the author is Rosamund Lupton, not Rosemary.

    I too read ‘Sister’ last year, and it quickly made its way to the top of my favourite books list. When ‘Afterwards’ came, I was excited for another novel from Lupton, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. I really love Lupton as an author as she gives such a fresh voice to the typical whodunnit/mystery type genre that seems seeded in the same tropes and formulas to tell a story. It’s not many writers who can accurately and intriguingly capture the nuances of female relationships, whether they be between sisters as in ‘Sister’ or mother and daughter, and still get away with a nail-biting thriller.

    What’s more, she has proven that she is a writer who can be original with a new story while strongly staying in her style and genre. So many authors these days are formulaic about their works to the point where there is not much point to reading anything new by them. Rosamund Lupton is anything but formulaic, and the diversity of story, emotion and characters seen in ‘Sister’ and ‘Afterwards’ I believe mark her as an author thoughtful and dedicated to the craft of storytelling.

    I wasn’t bothered by the above mentioned new ageism, and barely noticed it. The parts of the story that explained her ethereal world were just that, a device created to explore the world in which Grace was put. You can’t have a novel centred around an out of body experience and not explain some of the limitations and abilities such a state entails. An author needs to give readers a sort of foundation when they leave the realm of ‘normal physical life’ and enter into a realm that is merely hypothetical to some, and entirely fantasy to others.

    All in all, I found ‘Afterwards’ an addictive and satisfying read that moved and entertained me in equal measure.

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