Book Review: After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

The kind of book that makes you miss your subway stop…

2010 is turning out to be the year of Maggie O’Farrell on My Porch. In 2009 I had attempted to read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox but there was something about the shifting narrative that made it temporarily unattractive to me. But then this past January when we were Thailand another O’Farrell title (The Distance Between Us) was in the resort library, I picked it up and ended up loving it. So then I went back to Esme and loved it. And then O’Farrell’s latest book, The Hand that First Held Mine, came out and not surprisingly I loved it as well. So now I have moved on to her first novel After You’d Gone, and yes, once again love was in the air. As regular readers know I am prone to hyperbole so I throw around the word “love” a lot. When I analyze this love for O’Farrell’s novels it becomes clear that I don’t love O’Farrell’s books in the sense that they are life-altering works of genius. But they are extremely enjoyable reads, the kind that make you want to stay in bed all day and read it from cover to cover. The kind of book that makes you miss your subway stop.

Now that I have read 80% of O’Farrell’s five-book oeuvre, I feel safe in saying that she loves to play around with shifting narrative. Both backwards and forwards in time but also from different points of view. And the various threads eventually all come together in sometimes surprising, and always intriguing ways. I was somewhat to see O’Farrell use this approach in her first novel. I guess part of me was thinking that one had to work up to that kind of narrative complexity and that her first would be more straight forward. I think I was somewhat disappointed, like this whole interwoven thread thing was a little gimmicky. It is a good gimmick, don’t get me wrong, but I began to wonder if she is capable of something more straight forward. Would I even want her to try? That her first novel doesn’t do it as expertly as later novels may be why the notion came into my head at all. But ultimately for me this is a quibble.

For those of you who need more than abstract ramblings to entice you into reading a book let me try and summarize the plot. Alice is acting odd, gets hit by a car, ends up in coma. Too succinct perhaps? In the process we learn all about her childhood and her love life, her family dynamics, and we actually get some narrative from the comatose Anna. Still not enough? Edinburgh, London, love of her life, family secrets. And sex! Did I mention sex?! O’Farrell’s description of Alice’s sex life was positively male in its somewhat graphic, horny, honesty. If William Styron had written it, it probably would have annoyed me. But from a female writer it was kind of refreshing. Or it may have something to do with the objects of desire. I can identify with O’Farrell’s interest in men, while Styron’s raunchy desire for Sophie left me cold. Maybe this is why straight men tend not to groove on “lady authors” as much as I do. Could it be as simple as that?

9 thoughts on “Book Review: After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

  1. Kerry September 1, 2010 / 1:06 pm

    O'Farrell has been popping up everywhere recently – I am intrigued. Thanks for sharing the review! Looking forward to picking her up soon (though that's probably wishful thinking, given my already overwhelming collection of books to read).


  2. savidgereads September 2, 2010 / 8:25 am

    Oooh I need to read this one. I have only read the latest and Vanishing Act and loved them both, so I must erad more of her work. I have a few on the TBR but want to space them out I think as who knows when the next one will be out!


  3. Steph September 2, 2010 / 10:49 am

    So happy to have found a fellow O'Farrell lover! I think she's one of my favorite discoveries of 2010, as well. I've only read her latest novel, but I loved it so much, I'm desperate to read more by her. I tend to love shifting narratives, and she does it with such skill. So glad you've found her other books all satisfying and rewarding… I can't wait to find more of her stuff!


  4. September 4, 2010 / 4:57 pm

    I honestly could not believe this was a debut novel when it came out. Now when I think about it, I can see some of the flaws but at the time I was just so knock-down-dazzled that someone so young could have written this. I'm another O'Farrell lover! (Though I think you've read the best ones… My Lover's Lover was a bit meh).


  5. Darlene September 5, 2010 / 8:19 am

    This is not an author I would normally seek out but so many of you whose taste in books I admire do. Next time one of her books comes across the counter at the library I'm going to take a closer look.


  6. Thomas at My Porch September 7, 2010 / 2:03 pm

    Kerry: She has. I think it was her recently published book that may have jumped started some of that. Her PR folks were very good about sending our review copies to bloggers. Thankfully I got one, I suppose due to my glowing review of The Distance Between Us.

    Simon: I know. I only have one left until she writes another.

    Steph: She does do the shifting narrative well. If she didn't I would never have made it through. Or at least I wouldn't have been happy about it.

    Teadevotee: I totally agree. Especially when so many first novels just ooze autobiography.

    Darlene: They are pretty quick reads so even if it isn't your cup of tea it won't take up too much of your time.


  7. Sandra September 12, 2010 / 5:51 pm

    I've loved O'Farrell since reading After You'd Gone and Vanishing Act. I wasn't as keen on My Lover's Lover but I don't regret reading it. I have The Hand…on it's way to me and then will try The Distance Between Us. Glad to find that you like her work too.
    Happy to have found your blog and will be visiting again.


  8. Thomas at My Porch September 13, 2010 / 9:45 am

    Sandra: Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you like My Porch. You are the second person who said that My Lover's Lover was just so-so. It is the only O'Farrell I have left so it will be interesting to see if I feel the same way.


  9. Meg September 14, 2010 / 11:19 am

    Maggie O'Farrell is definitely an author soon to be added to my “to be read” stack! After You'd Gone sounds great, though my eye is really on The Hand That First Held Mine. The title alone really grabs me.


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