Having not signed up for a bookring on BookCrossing for a long while, I was surprised to be contacted to receive this book. Despite wanting to escape from the bookring craze, I decided to read this one. I'm so glad I didn't miss it. I can't say enough about this book, but I had to dance around the plot summary because I'd hate myself if I gave away even a little bit of the story. Oh, and I'm pretty indebted to it because it gave me a great bookish quote for my blog header, and I've been waiting for the right one to come along for awhile.
"To me it feels as if everything has been tilted to reveal this whole other picture which has existed just out of sight, all along."
After You'd Gone begins at its end. One Saturday morning Alice Raikes decides on the spur of the moment to visit her sisters in Edinburgh. She's barely just arrived when she sees something, something that remains a mystery until the end of the novel, that is so unspeakable that she departs for home again immediately. Later that night, Alice steps out into traffic and falls into a coma. Was it an accident? Or something worse?
The novel proceeds in various tenses, voices, and points of view, peeling off layer after layer of Alice's story, showing us that things are never quite as simple as they seem. After You'd Gone is many things: a story about true love, about family, about loss, about grief, and about healing. All of these things are beautifully rendered in a style that deceives readers into thinking that maybe they aren't all that involved in the story only to find that they've been so wrapped up in the web of Alice's life, that the core of the story is all the more gripping and heart-wrenching.
At first, I found the story's style of stringing together seemingly unrelated vignettes into larger chapters to be difficult, but as I came closer and closer to the end of the novel, I was stunned at how effective this tactic had been in helping me to know Alice inside and out and to become emotionally engaged with her. What seems so haphazard is, in truth, a surprisingly well-crafted narrative. In After You'd Gone, Maggie O'Farrell has crafted an incredible story that takes us into all the highs and lows of her character's life. All the time, O'Farrell manages to stealthily manipulate emotions without ever being cheesy or melodramatic. She is a master of not just telling but showing us her story - capturing the awkwardness of the beginning of a relationship, the blossoming of love, and the intense pain of grief and heartbreak.
It's hard to make me cry, especially for a book. This one did make me cry - not once but twice - despite my best efforts not to. Maggie O'Farrell has an astonishing grasp of emotions and the human condition. This novel is beautiful, heart-breaking, and not to be missed.
"Today I am bothered by the story of King Canute. (...) The story is, of course, that he was so arrogant and despotic a leader that he believed he could control everything - even the tide. We see him on the beach, surrounded by subjects, sceptre in hand, ordering back the heedless waves; a laughing stock, in short. But what if we've got it all wrong? What if, in fact, he was so good and great a king that his people began to elevate him to the status of a god, and began to believe that he was capable of anything? In order to prove to them that he was a mere mortal, he took them down to the beach and ordered back the waves, which of course kept on rolling up the beach. How awful it would be if we had got it so wrong, if we had misunderstood his actions for so long."