by Maggie O’Farrell (published 2000)
I have loved Maggie O’Farrell’s writing for years. I think the first of her books that I read was The Hand That First Held Mine, which captured me with its moving storyline, but most importantly with the quality of her writing.
So, when I came across After You’d Gone I was revelling in the anticipation of immersing myself in yet another masterpiece. However, I must admit that I struggled with the first half of the book. O’Farrell tells the story of Alice by weaving between different timelines and different points of view, which at first I found confusing, although cleverly done. We learn about Alice through her own thoughts as she lies in a coma, but also through the memories and experiences of the friends and family that touch her life.
But I’m pleased that I persisted, because by the time I reached the second half of the book I had become familiar with the writing style and became gripped until the final page.
It was only once I finished the story that I noticed its publication date. This book was published ten years before The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the Costa Novel Award. Looking at her Wikipedia entry, I see that After You’d Gone was her first published novel. As a writer, this fills me with hope. I can see how this well-respected author has developed her style and ability over a ten year period and beyond. If I can manage to achieve just ten percent of her command of language and creative flair over the next ten years I will be over the moon!