What can I say about the time we spent in each other's lives? That we were happy. That we were barely apart. That, fleetingly, I would get that vertiginous, towering feeling of knowing another person so well that you could actually see what it would be like to be them. That I never felt incomplete before I met him but with him I felt finished, whole. What else? We lived in his house in Camden Town. I made him tidier, I painted the staircase blue, he eased my temper by laughing at me when I was in a rage. He cured my insomnia by reading to me in the middle of the night when he was half asleep. What else, what else?
Alice wanders in a haze of the absence of an un-detailed lost lover. She finds herself at Kings Cross Station and spontaneously gets a train home to Scotland. When she meets her sisters there, she sees something so upsetting that it sends her back to London in a confused, spluttering mess. Her turmoil deepens and she is hit by a car and taken to hospital in a coma.
Thus ends the ten-page prologue of After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell. This premise enables Maggie to intertwine the stories of Alice's childhood, adolesence, lovers, family, mother, grandmother and what she saw at Edinburgh station in a fragmented narrative of Alice's comatose meanderings.
Oh my goodness. Recommended to me by Paola, via a recommendation from Petite Anglaise, this is a true blog-find and a perfect Saturday night in read. I started this at 10pm with a glass of red wine and finished it on Sunday morning with a cup of tea and a box of soggy tissues. The urgency of the stories, of Alice, of her mum, of her dad's mum, of her lover and of his father, and their inter-relationships and ability to damage and love one another in turn, result in a narrative that is simultaneously engaging and distracting from all the other stories you are also interested in. The narrative drags you at speed from North Berwick, to Edinburgh, to London and back again a few times more, via a weekend away at Lake Windermere and all its literary associations. An unashamed page-turner in the best sense, I had not had a good indulgent weep over literature for a very long time and it was purging, indulgent and wholly heart breaking.
Read this book, wallow in its brilliance, and just make sure you have something to hug when you reach the last page. Don't say I didn't warn you.