I don’t know how to discuss Afterwards, by Rosamund Lupton, because it defies categorization.
On the one hand, and at its most basic, it is a mystery. Grace runs into a burning school building to rescue her daughter Jenny, who is trapped inside. As Grace and Jenny recover from their wounds, Grace learns that the fire was arson, and she sets out to discover who is to blame.
But this book is so much more.
It is the story of parents. Grace and her husband, Michael, have 17-year-old Jenny and 8-year-old Adam. In fact, the day of the fire also happens to be Adam’s birthday. They do not always agree on parenting their children; Michael, a traveling television journalist, distrusts Adam’s beloved teacher, while Grace wishes Michael distrusted Jenny’s boyfriend a little more. But we know they love each other. Theirs is not a marriage that is in trouble, yet it is a marriage. It has its skips and bumps.
Afterwards is also the story of a mother and a daughter. As Grace delves deeper into the mystery surrounding the fire, she both grows closer to and realizes the distance between Jenny and herself. She is unhappy with Jenny’s apparent lack of academic discipline, and she thinks Jenny is in too deep with her boyfriend. She also struggles with jealousy of her sister-in-law, Sarah, a policewoman with whom Jenny shares confidences. Grace exhibits typical parental insecurity in that regard.
This is the story of a family. Grace feels inferior to Sarah, and she feels judged by her. Yet she comes to discover a different side to her sister-in-law, as she watches Sarah both investigate the fire and comfort her brother, Michael, as he tries to manage his daughter’s and wife’s injuries. Grace desperately tries to help Sarah, especially when Grace fears that Jenny’s life is in danger.
A figure is hurrying along the burns unit corridor. For some reason, I think of the shadowy figure on the edge of the playing field.
He’s going towards Jenny’s side ward.
He goes in, and through the half-open doorway I see his shape bending over her.
I scream, making no sound.
I can see a nurse walking towards Jenny’s room. Her sneakers squeaking on the linoleum alert the figure to her presence as he slips away.
Grace feels powerless to help her daughter, and she must rely on Sarah to help her find the arsonist.
And this is also the story of friendship. Grace’s friend, Maisie, has a daughter Jenny’s age who also was in the fire. Rowena is not as injured as Jenny, but Grace knows Maisie is worried about her, nonetheless. But the further Grace moves through the investigation, the more she learns about Maisie, her daughter, and even Maisie’s husband. Grace begins to wonder just how much she knows about her purported best friend.
Afterwards will make you think. You will get caught up in the mystery as Grace and Sarah pursue all of the angles. Who set fire to the school? Why? Is Adam’s favorite teacher evil or misunderstood. And what about Maisie’s husband? Then there is Adam himself. Did he play a role? But it is more than that. You will find yourself examining your own relationships with your children and friends. How much do we really know about our families and loved ones?
This is a completely absorbing book, and I enjoyed every word. I admit that I feel for a bad red herring, and I didn’t see the arsonist coming. I did have some suspicions about the mastermind, though, but even then, I can’t say I really thought that person was guilty.
Rosamund Lupton is to be commended for writing this novel, because it is so richly complex and fulfilling. But beware: you will not be able to put it down once you start, so choose your time wisely.
Published by Crown and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.