Sunday, November 28, 2010

After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell

Title: After You'd Gone
Author: Maggie O'Farrell
Pages: 372
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Book Literature

From the blurb:

"When Alice Raike's sisters come to pick her up at the train station, they find her wild-eyed, confused, and insistent on returning to London that very minute. Only a few hours later, they receive terrible news - Alice is lying in a coma after an accident that may or may not have been a suicide attempt. While her life hangs in the balance, Alice's family gathers at her bedside. As they wait, argue, and remember, long-buried tensions rise to the surface. Alice, meanwhile, sliding between different levels of consciousness, recalls her past and the end of a tragic love affair..."

I have to admit that my first attempt at reading this novel was an utter failure. Most often I begin reading my books a little distracted and entirely rely upon the author to pull me into the realm through the plot, style of narration or both. Hence, when the book failed to grasp my interest the first time, I put it down after reading a few pages, perplexed and a little disappointed. Then I wondered if it was my apprehension towards reading new authors combined with worldly distractions that needed to be blamed upon. I decided to give it another try. With a feverish concentration and a wrinkled forehead, I devoted a good amount of time reading the first few chapters of the book and this time around my efforts certainly paid off.

The book follows no chronological pattern, often narrated by various characters over different periods of time. The subjects of her novel often shift back and forth between past and present which might confuse or frustrate the readers at the beginning. However, once the initial premise is well built, the book races through the plot for a nail-biting finish. The story mainly focuses on three women Elspeth, Ann and Alice spanning over 3 generations. Elspeth, mother-in-law of Ann, nurtures Alice more than anyone else. Despite knowing some dirty family secrets, she strives to keeps the family bonds intact. Ann, who never properly loved her husband, remains loyal to someone else. Her adulterous behavior brings out negative emotions and her guilt leads to unpleasant encounters with Alice, which are often hysterical and painful. Alice who was never loved by her mother, comes across as a disturbed child and grows up to be cold and distant with her parents. The choices she makes in her life though poor at the beginning, flattens out eventually when she falls for the man who is a real sweetheart. But her self-doubts and insecurities try to rip apart the beautiful life she created. When she finally gets a grip on, she lost it altogether to fate. Though I didn't like Alice initially, the more I understood where she came from, the more I began to empathize with her.

The author touches upon several sensitive issues like religious clashes and infidelity but her triumph comes from those beautiful prose expressing several emotions ranging from love, loss, grief and self-neglect. She is adept at dealing with complexities of family relationships and it clearly comes through her writing. Especially, the passages describing the agony of grief-stricken Alice, the time when she bawls over the phone narrating her insecurities to her sister, unable to get on with her life, her losses - everything moved me to tears. It almost felt as if I was going through all the grief Alice was experiencing. I had to put down the book and cry for several minutes before moving on. What I really liked about the book was the fact that her characters seemed so real, their emotions not fabricated. Though the story constantly churned out several twists, most of it was predictable and it was not a surprising end altogether. In that way, I found it a little comforting that no more heart-breaks need to be endured. Highly recommended!

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