Friday, July 31, 2015

Review of After You'd Gone By Maggie O'Farrell

This will probably not come as a surprise, but I just read another book about grief. The book jacket promised family secrets and intrigue, and yes, those things are part of the story. But boiled down, this is yet another book in my string of books about sad sad sad sad.

That said, I enjoyed this book quite a bit (assuming “enjoy” is the right word for sad sad sad). Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I particularly love two of her books -- The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Hand That First Held Mine.  I think that O’Farrell is notable for her spider web writing. The reader is held at a distance at first but is quickly pulled tighter and tighter into the center of the drama.

After You’d Gone was O’Farrell’s debut novel, published in 2002. The story focuses on Alice, who begins the book by getting hit by a car and falling into a coma. The reader knows that something bad has happened in her life, that she has witnessed something difficult. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, allowing the reader to learn about her family and her marriage and the events leading up to the accident. In addition to being a book about grief, this is also book about loyalty and deception. For whom would you sacrifice yourself? Does the truth set you free?

It took me a while to ease into this story, mostly because the time and narrative voice switch often – in the same chapters and without warning. I struggled in the beginning to figure out who was speaking, and the organization felt a bit clunky.  In those ways, the book definitely seemed like a debut. But as much as I didn’t want to be reading about grief, I think that O’Farrell nailed it. I felt every aching minute. The tangible quality of one character’s pain gave me a good glimpse of what a fantastic writer O’Farrell would soon become.

When you find an author that you enjoy, do you tend to go back and read his or her entire catalog? Do you find that satisfying? I think that I would have liked this book even more if I had read it before I had read all of her others. Here’s an old column from the New York Times Book Review about backlists in the book business.

And you can find an interview with O’Farrell here and here.

After You’d Gone is on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list.  I’m making slow and unsteady progress toward my goal of finishing (and freeing!) 12 books that have been sitting on my leaning stack for too long. Of course, if I succeed at my challenge, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m going to reward myself by putting new books on the stack. 

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