After You’d Gone – Maggie O’Farrell

Published by: Tinder Press/Hachette
Pages: 384
Date released: 11/08/2008 (original published 2000)
Date read: 18/04/2021

Alice Raikes takes a train from London to Scotland to visit her family, but when she gets there she witnesses something so shocking that she insists on returning to London immediately. A few hours later, Alice is lying in a coma after an accident that may or may not have been a suicide attempt.

Alice’s family gathers at her bedside and as they wait, argue, and remember, long-buried tensions emerge. The more they talk, the more they seem to conceal. Alice, meanwhile, slides between varying levels of consciousness, recalling her past and a love affair that recently ended. A riveting story that skips through time and interweaves multiple points of view.

If you’ve ever read any of Maggie O’Farrell’s books, you’ll know what I mean when I say she’s a one-of-a-kind author. The way she writes is like no author I have ever read before. No matter the reader, she manages to speak directly into their soul, directly into their heart, and she is just spellbinding.

After You’d Gone was her debut novel, published 21 years ago in 2000. If I’d read this when it first came out, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the books that followed. After reading her subsequent books – including her amazing novel Hamnet last year – I would be easy to think this is an author who has perfected her craft over the years. But now reading this, it’s clear to me that she was perfect right from the off, and that’s a very rare gift to have.

This book had the potential to be quite depressing, after all it does focus on Alice after an assumed suicide attempt, but Maggie writes with such a sensitive touch that it is such a heart-warming read. The characters leap f the page, you can hear the dialogue in your ear, and your heart bleeds for each and every one of them; characters that we know and love and hate in our real lives.

I have loved everything I’ve read of hers, including the aforementioned Hamnet – the review of which came out earlier this week – and her non-fiction book I am, I am, I am, which documents her near-death experiences. I never thought I would read a book that topped these two but I think this has managed that. I think I’d go as far as saying this is the best book I’ve ever read and now takes the place as my favourite book.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to order everything else she’s ever written.

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