Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
Published by Piatkus in 2011
My copy: Secondhand copy
Black smoke stains a summer blue sky. A school is on fire. And one mother, Grace, sees the smoke and runs. 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 family 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.
It is sports day and mum Grace is there to watch her 8-year-old son, while older daughter Jenny is inside. When a fire breaks out, she runs in to save Jenny, changing their lives forever..
So what I didn’t know about this book when I started reading it is that after the events on the fateful sports day, the book is still narrated by Grace, but this time by her spirit, in an out-of-body sort of way while her ‘real’ body lies in a hospital bed. She is joined in the spirit world by Jenny’s spirit, while the ‘real’ Jenny is also lying in a hospital bed. This is about as odd as it sounds, but I decided to go with it and found I quite enjoyed it – at first. However, what I didn’t expect was for this narrative style to last for the entire book as the Grace and Jenny spirits try to find out what happened and who started the fire. This really took my suspension of disbelief to the next level…!
This technique started to grate on me after while, and it was made worse by the fact that Grace is telling the story to her husband, referring to him as ‘you’ throughout. This was actually quite confusing at times and, ultimately, pointless. The story also became really repetitive, and it seemed to go round in circles and never went anywhere. In fact, just over halfway through the book, in a fit of frustration I decided to skip 50 pages to see if I would miss anything, and when it was clear I hadn’t I skipped another 50 and skimmed my way to the end!
I think the narrative style, while interesting initially, meant the book was very limited in its scope, and I also got more and more annoyed with the narrator speaking to characters “even though I knew s/he couldn’t hear me”.
Also the very premise of the novel didn’t really make sense – why on earth would the first aid room of a school be based on the third floor of the building, and be staffed by an unqualified 17 year old on sports day? I also found the end got really muddled and the motive of the arsonist wasn’t very convincing.
I think there might have been a decent novel in here if perhaps it had been about half the length, and maybe not been narrated throughout by a spirit! But this one is heading straight back to the charity shop.