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After You'd Gone


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RESTORED THREAD January 2013

 

megustaleer 9th February 2011 03:42 PM

After You'd Gone

 

From Amazon Reviews:

...Maggie O'Farrell's fine debut After You'd Gone is, from one perspective, formless--short vignettes, told from multiple points of view and in multiple voices, that are somewhat puzzling on their own and apparently have no connection to each other. Ultimately, however, these elements merge into a coherent and moving portrait of a young woman's journey toward a life-threatening crisis.

In London, one cold day in late autumn, Alice Raikes impulsively boards a train home to Scotland. Shortly after joining her two sisters in the Edinburgh train station, she sees something "odd and unexpected and sickening" in the station's restroom that causes her to immediately flee back to London. Later that evening, while walking to the grocers, Alice broods over what she has seen, then abruptly steps into oncoming traffic. As she lies comatose in her hospital bed, a swirl of voices and images gradually reveals her past--her parents, especially her mother, Ann; her beloved grandmother, Elspeth; her two sisters, so unlike her, both physically and temperamentally; and John Friedman, whom she loved and lost--and hints at her precarious future.

The unnamed spectacle of the...washroom scene resurfaces in Alice's semiconscious haze and its eventual elucidation comes as less of a shock than a confirmation of all we have learned about her tumultuous existence. Sharply observed details of everyday life and language, original and telling figures of speech and deftly handled plot twists reach a moving climax, while subtly raising the question of whether the objects of Alice's affection--and the sources of her agony--were worth enduring. --Alex Freeman _______________

'Maggie O'Farrell keeps the reader guessing right up to the end in this engrossing psychological mystery... the characterisation is excellent and the dialogue immaculate' -- Sunday Telegraph

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'an engrossing study of loss and family ties, delivered with the page-turning pace of a thriller' -- Independent on Sunday

I enjoyed this very much while I was reading it, although each 'voice' told its part of the story in very short passages. This, and the changing about between the present, the near past and the further past was slightly irritating at first.

However, I was hooked by the question of what Alice had seen in the station Superloo and keen to see the puzzle unravelled. It's pretty obvious to the reader quite early on what secret is uncovered by what Alice has seen, although exactly what she did see is saved until near the end.

The other strand to the story is Alice's hot courtship and short marriage It is the sudden death of her husband, John, that has pushed the vulnerable Alice into a chaotic, depressed state, which sends her rushing up for an unexpected visit to her sisters, and what brings her to be on Waverly station at the relevant time.

 

There are some strange echoes of other books I have been reading in recent months, although the books have been picked up with no idea of their content. This is the third that has a narrator lying in a coma in a hospital bed, and the fourth with a degree of anti-Semitic content. Alice's mother is opposed to her relationship with John, as he is a Jew and she expects problems with his family. He is from a secular background but his father, following the death of his wife, has become fanatically religious. John's relationship with non-Jewish Alice causes a rift with him, and after they marry John's father will not communicate with him in any way.

 

I think that there is supposed to be a connection between the relationship of Alice with her parents, and John with his father, but I haven't managed to bring it into focus yet.

I think that at least one other member here has read it, so maybe other thoughts on it will help.

Oddly, although I was intrigued by the story, and enjoyed reading it, I couldn't remember a thing about it a little more than a week later, until I had looked it up online. :confused:

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leyla 9th February 2011 04:31 PM

I love Maggie O'Farrell so I don't want to read this thread until after I've read her book, which I bought with a bundle of others at last yr's Edinb Book Fest but still not had time to read.

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Minxminnie 9th February 2011 05:50 PM

I read this a good few years ago and I remember I loved it. I even got upreally early on a Sunday morning so that I could finish it. I can't remember too much about it, tho - no more than what you said, meg.

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saybut 2nd March 2011 02:15 PM

the book Alice mentions in After you'd gone

 

Hi, I loved this book too, someone else has my copy at the moment and I'm trying to find out what the book is which Alice gives to John when they first meet in his office..

 

Does anyone have any clue at all? Was interested in looking at it but can't remember it!

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megustaleer 2nd March 2011 02:44 PM

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

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Binker 6th March 2011 04:33 PM

I just finished this book and enjoyed it very much. I didn't find the different points of view and time jumping to be hard to follow. I found all of the different points of view engaging and thought O'Farrell did a masterful job of making each person's view unique.

 

However, I think all that jumping around, especially in time, is what makes the book hard to remember. It's much easier to hold on to a story that is linear and this one is not. I think that if you made a chronology (which I'm not suggesting anyone do), it would make it easier to remember. Out Stealing Horses, which I just read, also jumps around a bit and someone made a chronology on a website I visited to read about the book and I found that that made it easier to remember the facts.

 

There are a lot of losses in this book, some by death and some by other heartbreak. I thought the two girls who were left at boarding school--Elspeth and Ann--were our first hint of what was to come. Then Elspeth abandons her fiance to marry Gordon who dies very young and leaves her alone for the rest of her life. Ann's losses were self-imposed to some degree, but while it's easy to find her an unappealing character, I sort of liked her and felt sorry for her. Not quite as sorry as Ben, who seems to have been blameless in all of it, but still sad. And then there's Alice and Daniel, both of whom have suffered a terrible loss.

 

I think what we learn from all of this is that trying to protect yourself from the risk--really, certainty--of hurt that love brings is futile. I think that's Ann's purpose in the story. She tried and totally failed to protect herself and others. Those who did the best job were those who soldiered on--Elspeth, Ben, and John. They continued to make themselves terribly vulnerable emotionally (Elspeth and Ben with Alice and John with his father). Not coincidentally, Elspeth, Ben, and John are my three favorite characters, particularly Ben at the end. And, I think, although it's not very clear, that at the end, both Alice and Daniel are able to embrace that aspect of being alive.

 

I had marked this passage when I got to it: "Love is not changed by death and nothing is lost, and all in the end is harvest." It's from Julian of Norwich and John tells Alice about it when her grandmother dies. It's a good summary of the book, although not all the losses in the book are by death.

 

I have to say that Alice as a child reminds me of me as a child and I do feel for her mother (and mine) for having had to deal with all that!

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