Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

by on June 7th, 2012
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton Cover Image

I’m not proud to admit it, but there are a couple books that I’ve read in recent years that have made me cry*…one is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (scene of tears: Starbucks), and the other is Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton (scene of tears: pedestrian mall park bench). Afterwards tells the story of a mother and daughter who are both seriously injured in a fire–both are in a state of coma, the mother with brain injury, the daughter with burns and organ damage. It’s from this in-between world of awake/asleep, alive/not quite alive that the book is narrated, by the mother, and she and the daughter are both active in that world–they can hear and see, move about, they speak to one another. They listen in on the conversations of visitors and doctors in order to get information and to keep tabs on what’s going on. On the face of it, the story is about them trying to find out what happened on the day of the fire, what is happening to their bodies (and lives), and how to get back to the real world.

At its core, though, this book is about many things–strength, truth and honesty, memory, knowing ones’ self, making decisions. Common themes, yes, but Lupton explores them in ways that are unique, beautiful and heart-wrenching all at the same time. This book is also about love–so much love, so many kinds of it, having it, wanting it, losing it. Many of the best parts in Afterwards are related to the narrator’s descriptions of those she loves, primarily her husband and children. Part of the emotional resonance comes from what’s being described, of course–meeting her husband, taking her baby daughter home for the first time, watching her son learn to swim–these things that many of us can relate to, and sympathize with. The resonance also comes from the language, though. Now, I’m a sucker for nice vocabulary, but Lupton goes beyond; lovely word choices, yes, but also fine sentence structure that lends a poetic quality to her writing. Beautiful sentences describing meaningful moments are powerful, and this book is full of them. I don’t have children, but I felt this mother’s yearning to protect her child. My husband is safe and sound, and I’ve read plenty of books that describe broken relationships, but I burst into tears when the narrator describes the love that comes from twenty years of knowing someone, and contemplates a life without it.

For sure, this isn’t your typical mystery or romance novel at all, and it might be a bit heavy for ‘summer reading’, but I recommend it wholeheartedly. While the premise is completely imagined (who knows what coma is like??), and it has a bit of the heart-rending tone, it’s very real and ultimately affirming. Besides, it’s good to be reminded of just how powerful someone’s words can be. So go check it out, take it to a picnic or the beach, and enjoy…just remember a handkerchief.

*In the interest of full disclosure, any Nicholas Sparks book has the capacity to make me cry, but for entirely different reasons.

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