Like a pointillist painting, 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 opening 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
--This text refers to an alternate
'An effortless read... A compulsively readable and accomplished first novel' (Lesley Glaister, Independent on Sunday
'Such an accomplished performance... A memorable debut' (Shena MacKay, Telegraph
'Grips the reader from its first, dramatic pages... Kept me up half the night, unable to put it down' (Mail on Sunday
'A writer of rare insight and intellect with a feel for language that renders her love story both tender and tragic' (Financial Times
'Dazzlingly good... When I finished it, I'm not embarrassed to say, I wept' (Big Issue
'Deeply moving... O'Farrell textures the plot brilliantly, wrapping the bare bones in a rich flesh' (Times Metro