After reading it in two nights, I’m willing to bet that many Rosamund Lupton fans will like her new novel, Afterwards, even better than her bestselling debut, Sister. I did. The new book is part psychological thriller, part literary fiction, and part tribute to the power of the mother-daughter relationship.
Grace is the mother of Jenny, seventeen, and Adam, eight, both students at an exclusive private school. An arsonist sets fire to the building while Jenny is inside, and Grace runs inside to save her daughter. Both Grace and Jenny end up in the hospital in critical condition.
The story begins when Grace wakes up and realizes she’s hovering over her own body in the ICU. She soon finds Jenny, also wandering the hospital in an out-of-body experience. Together they try to piece together what happened.
Over the course of the novel, the truth challenges the ties that bind their family. When the police accuse Grace’s young son, Adam, of starting the fire, both Grace and Jenny know he’s innocent. As the investigation heats up, the doctors suggest that both Grace and Jenny’s medical conditions might be fatal and irreversible. The clock is ticking.
The mystery is only part of the story, and what Lupton does so well is make the pressure of the situation test the distance Grace will go to save her children. Being a parent means making sacrifices that can seem unimaginable, but when the time comes, Grace will go the distance. That’s what makes the book so moving.
Afterwards is a clear progression of the writing ability Lupton displayed in Sister, which was a story about Bee, who is devastated when her sister Tess is found dead. The police are convinced Tess committed suicide, but Bee is certain her sister was murdered and sets out to solve the crime herself. Lupton takes a similar angle by examining the relationship between sisters as Bee crosses boundaries she could never have imagined. Bee’s love for her sister drives the book to a shocking conclusion.
Both books are told in the voice of the protagonist speaking to their loved one (In Afterwards, Grace telling her story to her husband, and in Sister, Bee addresses Tess). Since the way we speak in our closest relationships is so much more intimate and personal than the way we speak to others in our daily lives, the premise creates an intimacy and deep understanding of the characters that can’t be gained from a third-person or even first-person-speaking-to-reader perspective.
I loved Sister when it came out, as did the public, but I loved Afterwards even more. Often writers who make a big splash with their first novel buckle under the pressure and write a sub-par sophomore effort, but that’s not the case here. It makes me hopeful Lupton is only going to continue to get better and I predict she’s got more good stuff where this came from.
Now that your interest has been piqued, we’re going to give away a free galley of Afterwards. If you’re interested, just comment on this blog post or our related Facebook or Google+ notifications. The winner will be randomly chosen and announced in a few days. Then you can come pick up your loot in the store. And if you don’t win, you can still come by and purchase a real copy of Afterwards. Let us know what you think!