"To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."
~~William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"~~
This verse is just before the prologue of Rosamund Lupton's second book, Afterwards. A beautiful little verse and it suits this book. There are deep themes in Afterwards, which is a melding of a thriller and a story of deep family love. I listened to this book on audio and enjoyed it very much. It was narrated by Finty Williams, and she did a marvelous job. I'll be looking for more books narrated by her.
Afterwards is a scary story. It begins with a mother, Grace, who comes to her children's school on a sports day to pick up her 8-year-old son, Adam. Soon after she arrives and as she is looking for her boy, it becomes apparent that the school is on fire. Almost no one is in the building because of the special sports event, but Grace sees Adam and then doesn't see her 17-year-old daughter, Jenny, a teaching assistant at the school. She rushes into the burning building to save her child. Both Jenny and Grace are critically injured, along with another teen teaching assistant, Rowena, daughter of Grace's good friend Maisie.
The fire turns out to have been arson. And here's where the book is a little different. It's told from the viewpoint of Grace, who is in a coma. Both Grace and Jenny are sort of spirits or ghosts in a way. Their conscious minds are able to see and hear and move about the hospital, while their unconscious bodies remain in hospital beds. They talk to each other, but they are not able to communicate with anyone else. In this way, mother and daughter are witnesses to what happens at the hospital as Mike, Grace's husband, and Sarah, his sister, talk to doctors, sit beside them, and as the police investigation proceeds.
Sarah is also Detective Sergeant McBride and a police officer. When her boss settles on a convenient explanation for the arson and identifies the person he believes set the fire, she resists his conclusions. At great risk to her career, but out of love for both Grace, Jenny, and also Adam and Mike, Sarah pursues other angles. Meanwhile, someone doesn't want Jenny to wake up. Someone tries to kill her even within the walls of the ICU. Jenny herself can't remember what happened exactly before the fire. She's not sure why she was still in the building. And so she and Grace listen and talk to each other and get to know each other as they never have before. They begin to piece together what happened, just as Sarah is doing the same.
I know that some may feel that this storyline is quite unbelievable, but I liked it. I was sympathetic to Grace, who loved her children so fiercely, and who thought she knew all about her teenage daughter, but of course she didn't. It was hard for Grace to see that her little girl had grown up and was ready to move on to adulthood. The mystery aspect was well done. Lots of red herrings and individuals who might have been the arsonist. The ending was different too. Some were disappointed with it. I was not. For me, I knew what would happen, so unconventional though it was, I was satisfied.
I liked Grace as a mother who would basically do anything for her children. But, I really liked Sarah, the aunt and sister-in-law of the women, who was a dedicated police officer. She and Grace had never been close. In fact, Grace was always a little jealous and a little intimidated by Sarah. Mike and Sarah's parents had died young and she had been both mother and father to her younger brother. Sarah was consumed by a protective love for all the family and Grace comes to see that and appreciate her sister-in-law so very much. As I said, themes of deep family love here. A very good read for me.
I've read Rosamund Lupton's debut novel, Sister, and like it a lot. She has a new book coming out in February, The Quality Of Silence. It is set in Alaska and you can be sure that I'll be picking it up when it is available.