on 27 March 2014
When Anna bumps into Victor, an old flame from her Oxford University years, the past she has tried hard to forget begins to catch up with her. Betrayed by her best friends, carrying heartache and secrets, she faces up to the past as she attempts to shape her future.
I loved this story from the first chapter. Anna and her companions felt like friends, people you would know or could imagine knowing, they were portrayed so realistically. The setting of Oxford was also wonderfully descriptive. Each character was well written, flaws and all, but Clarissa and Keith really stood out. Clarissa for her bold, brash,'I'll take what I want' nature, and Keith for his sensitively portrayed depression. I have to say his revelation towards the end surprised me as well, it wasn't the twist I was expecting!
At the heart of the story is Anna and Victor's romance, wonderfully paced, it kept me on tenterhooks wondering if they would have an opportunity to get back together. Much more than chick-lit, this was a thoroughly gripping story with romance at it's core.
*I was sent a free copy of this book by the publishers in return for an honest review.
Anna Jones's time at Oxford was a happy one. She loved her English course, and was part of a small, very close group of friends - mysterious, gentle Keith (her best friend), practical scientist Meg, cheery Classicist Barnaby, dramatic thespian Clarissa and sensitive theatre director Victor - who did everything together. And when towards the end of their first year Anna and Victor fell in love life seemed perfect. But it obviously wasn't - for in Anna's third year something happened that destroyed her confidence, ended her relationship with Victor and left her only feeling half a person. For years, she moves through life as though half-asleep, putting up with an unsatisfactory job in educational publishing, some rather dull relationships and no close friendships - until the loss of her job, the end of a relationship and a chance meeting with Victor make her realise that there are two things she must do in order to move on from her past: find out the identity of her father (who she never knew), and make herself remember and assess that tragic end to her third year at Oxford.
Mercer's novel is a strange mixture of very intelligent perceptiveness and rather dull romance. On the one hand, she writes beautifully and sensitively about Anna's friendship with intelligent outsider Keith and Keith's depression, she captures perfectly the strangeness of being a 'fresher' at university and Anna's big secret is horribly believable. The general idea of a damaged woman managing to put herself together again after a trauma at university was also a good one. But despite the novel's tragic elements I couldn't help finding quite a lot of the writing quite bland. Mercer's view of Oxford student life is very idealised - no one seems to do any work (apart from in the first few weeks, and just before finals), no one ever gets stressed about essays, and Anna (as people so often do in Oxbridge novels) seems to fall in with a group of incredibly rich people who think nothing of spending their Sundays motoring out to country pubs (I thought in the 1990s students weren't usually allowed to keep cars?) or popping down to London to see shows. Apart from Victor and Clarissa, it also seemed surprising that the students (particularly Anna) appeared to have no extra-curricular interests other than partying and cooking: I remember university life as being full of activities - and lots of different friendship groups, rather than spending time in one small clique. The romance between Anna and Victor was full of every romantic cliche, and it was rather hard to see what the two had in common as Anna seemed to have so few interests (or indeed, what the friends had in common as they were such diverse people). Clarissa was a parody of the spoilt thespian princess 'with issues' and after her horrendous behaviour to Anna I'm surprised Anna was so civil to her when they met again. I wasn't sure all the elements of the modern story worked either - the complicated feelings between Anna and Victor were well portrayed, but the revelations about Anna's father were a great anticlimax (he was rather boring) and what was that whole speech Anna made about the wonders of the internet about? It sounded like something from a marketing conference (and no, the internet is not universally marvellous despite its many excellent aspects, and anyone who tried to prove it was would be rather deluded; just as criticising someone for not being 'online' at home is unfair). I didn't believe in Anna's longing for a career as an internet guru - nor did I believe that after the trauma of her final year at Oxford she'd be able to turn herself round so quickly. And the ending was wearily predictable. Also - oddly for a book about a very atmospheric town - Mercer gave very little sense of Oxford other than a few descriptions of the surrounding countryside and the college Anna attended. This was a real contrast to other Oxford novels I've read, such as Jill Paton Walsh's 'Lapsing'.
I felt this was a novel that at its best revealed a writer of insight and talent, and that the book had a lot of potentially interesting themes. But as so often with books trying to appeal in the 'chick lit' genre it overdid the romance to the point of becoming sickly sweet - even despite its tragic overtones. Nevertheless, as a light evening read during a busy and stressful week I have to say it was perfectly pleasant, if not riveting.
on 31 August 2014
Fortunately St. Bart’s College, Oxford, is fictitious because when you’ve finished this book you’ll know Anna & her undergraduate friends so well that you’d likely make a fool of yourself by showing up @ the porter’s lodge & having a fit when you weren’t recognised as a member of the college. The novel feels that it reads very slowly (tho’ it really doesn’t) but the effect is to draw us readers in so far we think we were characters too. Perhaps not one of Anna’s close friends but easily one of the many minor characters who fill out & give substance to After I Left You, like Violet or Mark.
As in a Greek tragedy, the cast is quite limited. The principal characters are the freshers Clarissa, Keith, Meg & Anna, who narrates the book. They matriculate in Michaelmas Term of 1991. They are taken up by Victor, who with his roommate & henchman Barnaby, is already in his second yea. But Anna tells the story looking backward from 2010. Since she came down, she’s been completely estranged & totally out of touch with her former Oxford friends. In accord with the myths that make this novel resonate in the unconscious, the tragic ending of the first part & the bittersweet new beginning of the second occur @ a festive end-or-term college ball & @ a much-delayed wedding
Not that it is by any means a flawless book. The entire subplot involving Anna’s biological father is full of loose ends, with Anna waiting till she’s almost 40 to find him is an end so loose it’s like a halliard flailing from the masthead. For purely medical reasons Anna should have insisted on knowing @ least by 18. (He has health problems a prudent offspring would want to know about, altho’ the author doesn’t seem to notice.) But the faults are offset by brilliant portrayals of the minor characters, which give After I Left You depth & authenticity. Even tho’ they may figure in but a few pages, Anna’s tutor Dr Kaspar, Victor’s father the Alzheimer’s patient, & Clarissa’s Scottish actor father’s California girlfriend, are vividly drawn & memorable.
After I Left You is a story of youthful first-time romantic & sexual attachment, of being part of a group of special & talented people devoted to each other’s happiness & fulfilment, & finally of the pain caused by treachery & infidelity by those whom we most loved. Such trauma may happen again in our life but never again so up-close & strong, nor again for the first time. The song title is right. The first cut is the deepest. It is why Donna Tartt’s The Secret History haunts some of us so much, as does Tana French’s The Likeness. After I Left You belongs on the shelf with them. If @ college or uni you had your own circle of intimate friends that’s now long-since blown to the four winds, you’ll tear up a lot reading this one. It’s belonging - & betrayal.
on 22 May 2014
Soaking wet with dripping hair and carrying a gruesome bridesmaid’s dress is not how Anna would have anticipated bumping into her ex – if she’d thought about bumping into him at all after seventeen years. But that’s exactly how Anna comes face to face with the love of her life, the one who hurt her so badly and how she once again connects with old friends from University.
After three years at an Oxford college, when Anna has been part of the ‘cool’ group and fallen in love, things end badly and she hopes she never sees any of that group again but seventeen years later when she has bumped into Victor, her curiosity piques her into contacting her old friend Meg, another of the group and her memories are reawakened. As Anna remembers events the reader is taken back to her Anna’s time at University, a time of first loves, friendships that should have lasted forever, hopes and dreams that were shattered for Anna by a sequence of events that last evening of the Ball.
Although I never attended university myself, I can quite easily imagine how it would have been from Anna’s story. The wanting to fit in somewhere, to find out who you are and to belong. To find love and lasting friendships. Anna’s Uni days were filled with hopes, laughter, friendships and fun until that fateful evening that affected the rest of her life, yet the confusion, the angst, the worries are also there in her group of friends; people from different backgrounds sharing a new and privileged life, learning the ways of the world. The telling of Anna’s story is realistic and engaging, something that every reader will be able to relate to. The small, intimate group of friends that grow as people, purporting to care for each other but when things come to a head there is always a scapegoat, always a loser, always a headstrong person willing to trample over everyone else, always someone willing to be lead. This makes for a fascinating read, the complexities of relationships are depicted really well and the characters are three dimensional, alive, not always likable, certainly with faults but very true to life. Anna herself is an enigma, her adult self is a far cry from the Anna we read about at University but as her story unfolds the reasons why become clear and paint Anna as an ever more empathetic character.
I have read a few ‘old friends meet up again years later’ stories recently but this one is done extremely well and makes for an intriguing read with the reader guessing almost to the end about ‘the event’ that changed Anna. A definite page turner and one to recommend.
on 12 February 2014
Anna hasn't seen the friends from her days at Oxford since graduating from university nearly two decades before. She has tried her hardest to put that part of her life behind her but when she bumps into old flame Victor, lingering feelings instantly bubble up and the past she so desperately tried to forget about comes tumbling back and crashing into the rather dull but safe life she has build for herself. The unexpected meeting and the emotional impact it has on her leave her with no other choice than to finally face that which made her run away from her old life in the first place.
Through flashbacks and the reconnection of Anna to some of her old friends, author Alison Mercer weaves an intricate web of intrigue and secrets which has the reader gripped from the moment they venture into Anna's past. Even though the major event alluded to throughout the novel was one I saw coming from the very first moment it was mentioned on the page, there were still plenty of unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. One in particular took me by surprise but certainly explained Anna's more than hesitant attitude towards one of the people she cut off contact with.
The close knit friends made for an unusual group of people to bond so quickly and so intensely, yet their inseparability also made perfect sense. On their own feet for the first time in their young lives they needed each other to lean on and to make sense of the harder parts of growing up and being independent. This in particular made it so profound that Anna cut all ties straight after graduation and it meant that nearly twenty years later she was still struggling to find her own place in the world.
Even if the reader's own university days weren't quite as tumultuous as Anna's, it isn't difficult to understand the conflicting feelings and other issues she's struggling with. The strong emotions that go hand in hand with first love and the transition from adolescence to adulthood were portrayed very realistically and were easy to identify with, making this a very relatable contemporary novel. Add to that a healthy dose of intrigue and you've got yourself a riveting read which will have any reader hooked until the final page.
I enjoyed Alison Mercer’s Stop the Clock and follow her blog so when I saw that After I Left You was on Netgalley, I couldn’t resist requesting.
Anna bumps into ex, Victor Rose, in 2011. This leads on to a meeting with Meg, another person from the Uni friendship group. Straight away I had questions. What happened? Why did it end so badly? Why was Anna not safe with them at Uni?
Through alternating timelines … the present leading up to the event when they’re all together and the backstory of 1991 (building the picture of Anna settling into Uni, the friendships that were forming and her relationship with Victor), the reader knows that whatever happened changed Anna forever as she is now watchful and mistrustful of those around her.
Part three is a turning point for Anna:
“Now the past I had tried so hard to flee had somehow also become the future I was moving towards, and the only choices were to press on or to stand still.”
Not only did I enjoy the intrigue and pace of the timelines unfolding but also the sub-plot that ties together Anna’s absent father to a gift she was given by a Uni friend. Very creative and ultimately poignant.
Through Anna, Mercer fearlessly looks at what lies beneath the façade we show others to the bare bones of what is going on underneath the surface. I love this!
I loved the ending. We don’t know for sure how things will play out but there is hope and a possibility of future happiness.
After I left You will keep your attention as you get caught up with Anna’s friendships, their romances, conflict and intrigue. I have no hesitation in recommending you add to your wish list.
I would like to thank the publisher for accepting my request via Netgalley.
I have a been a fan of Alison Mercer’s writing since reading and falling in love with her first book Stop The Clock. Knowing how much I had loved that book, I was ever so excited to start After I Left You.
Anna has not been back to Oxford since she was at University 17 years ago, and she hasn’t seen the friends from there that she thought would be in her life forever. And Anna has tried her best to forget about her time spent there, the betrayal, the secrets, and the last night she spent with them. But on a rainy day in London Anna has a chance meeting, in the form of old flame Victor, forcing her to face everything in her past…
Alison Mercer is a wonderful storyteller, and she definitely knows how to keep her readers hanging on to every word she writes. I became completely lost in what I was reading and it was impossible to put down. I was particularly interested to know what had happened to Anna at university. Why had she cut off contact with her friends? What is the secret that she has been carrying around? I was completely gripped to the pages wanting to know more.
In the story, we go back and forth between Anna in the present day and Anna during her time at university. This wasn’t confusing at all and the story flowed beautifully from one chapter to the next.
The characters were fascinating, they were all so realistic and just jumped from the pages. I could really feel the emotion in Anna and the other characters, it was very raw and very realistic. The relationships between Anna and her friends at university were very complex, at times quite intense and I could relate to that. When you’re at college or university, the people around you become YOUR LIFE, and it does get strong and intense, so if anything happens the pain is that much more. It was interesting to read about the contrast in Anna’s life, from her time at university where she is happier and surrounded by friends to her in the present where she is less trusting of others and still carrying a secret around. I really felt for Anna and I was hooked to the story wanting to find out what had happened in her past and to see how she would move forward with her future.
I loved Anna and Victor’s story the most, it was so well-written and I thoroughly enjoyed those scenes. I tried guessing events along the way, but there were many twists that I did not see coming, and so I was left very surprised on a few occasions.
After I Left You is a very compelling novel that will have you turning the pages and always wanting to find out more.
on 3 February 2014
When I first started reading this, I was gripped. I just had to find out what was so bad that had happened to Anna that had caused her to cut all ties with her university friends.
The novel is written in five parts and flits back and forth from Anna in present day to Anna as a university student. Reading older Anna and younger Anna you can see how what happened to her has changed her. As a uni student she is more carefree and happy to embrace whatever comes, but as a woman in her thirties, you can see how closed-up and untrusting she has become.
Everything in this had a raw kind of quality to it. The emotions and the way that the characters spoke to each other seemed sometimes so coldly honest and direct. As a reader you are never unsure of what each character is thinking.
I liked how Alison cleverly alluded to what had happened to Anna with snippets of conversation between characters in the present day. They say enough to let you know something bad did happen, but never enough to completely give it away. You are left to try and make up your own mind as to what happened. The novel did lose its pace slightly for me in the middle and I did get a little frustrated, but my need to find out the secret kept me going, and the novel did start to pick up pace again.
I loved the setting of Oxford university. Really wish I had been clever enough to go there. It just sounded so picturesque and full of history and intrigue.
A great storyline idea, full of intrigue and suspense in places that should carry you to the very last page.
Anna, at a crossroads in her life, bumps into Victor a friend from her university days at Oxford. He wants her to stay in touch with the group of friends they had at University and Anna does visit Meg who is also at a crossroads in her life because her long term partner, Jason, has left her and their children. Anna receives an invitation to the Gaudy - a social occasion unique to Oxford - and decides to go.
What happened twenty years ago to make Anna sever all ties with her friends is revealed in long flashbacks to her university life. Can facing up to it all heal the wounds and allow her to move on with her life? Anna also feels it is time to ask her mother precisely who her father is as she wants to make contact with him and find out his side of the story.
This is an interesting story, narrated by Anna herself. I felt I never really got to know Anna - as though she is somehow standing in her own light and holding a lot back from the reader. I did enjoy reading the book and it is well written though I felt the ending was a little bit too neat after all the angst which had gone before.
Believable characters and situations and an evocative portrait of Oxford life make this more than the average women's fiction novel and it may cause the reader to question the choices they made in their own life and ask whether one should ever go back. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.
on 1 March 2014
The book is split into parts, Anna in the present day and Anna in the past at university in Oxford. It's clear from the present day chapters that something happened whilst Anna was at university. It's clear she split up from her (then) love of her life, it's clear she was betrayed and it's clear one of the group is no longer with them BUT it isn't obvious who she was betrayed by, or how, or what happened to Keith. You meander all the way through the book, and you might have an inkling but it isn't obvious or predictable. There aren't any particularly major twists to the book, but I liked that it wasn't obvious and it wasn't something that you were pressingly forced to think about. It meant you could quietly indulge in the story itself and let the truth come out in its own time.
The switch between decades was seamless and very well done. The characters were full of life, and the description of the setting was really lovely at times.
If anything, I would have liked to have a little more made of the ending but I appreciate why it is how it is.