Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375422607, 336pp.
Publication Date: July 10, 2007
Rachel Seiffert’s first book, The Dark Room, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, announced the arrival of a major writer; Afterwards fulfills that promise with a stunning novel about war and its brutal after-effect.
Alice is the protagonist of Afterwards, but this book is about the guilt harboured by people around her. There are two men in her life: her maternal grandfather, David, recently widowed, and her boyfriend, Joseph, each of whom keeps his past from his loved ones. David served in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion; Joseph, during a stint in the British army, served in Northern Ireland. Both, we learn, live with the memory of having killed in the line of duty.
As Alice’s relationship with Joseph develops, she senses there is something about his past that he keeps hidden. This is particularly galling given the personal and emotional details she has revealed to him (namely, that Alice has never met her father, and her attempts to establish an epistolary relationship with him in adulthood foundered). After her grandmother’s death, Alice finds the time spent with her grandfather awkward. She doesn’t know him the way she did her grandmother, but feels obliged to visit and offer support. Gradually, it emerges that David’s cold manner is traceable to events in Kenya, where he and his wife met. And as Alice tries to get to the bottom of Joseph’s reticence, a series of heated family discussions brushes ever closer to David’s secrets.
Praise from the United Kingdom for Afterwards
"Seiffert's superb new novel is her most integrated and accomplished work yet... This is one of those books that reminds you how perverse it is that we, as readers, demand that something we know to be fiction seem both real and plausible."
"[Seiffert] is an excellent dramatist of human failure... Afterwards is a daring work, sure to gain her greater recognition... As fine a depiction of a man in crisis as you will read."
--The Weekly Telegraph
"Seiffert writes in an admirably precise and unsentimental style. She is very good indeed at evoking the feeling of life being led... The novel is consistently absorbing and enjoyable. Her first novel, The Dark Room, saw her hailed as one of the best of her generation; this one will confirm that judgment."
"Seiffert's prose is remarkable for its plainness... We are given, not the grandeur and symmetry of literary imaginings, but the complicated substance of unadorned lives."
--The Sunday Times
"[Seiffert has] a Pinterish ability to make what is not said seem more important than what is."
"Structurally brilliant... prose that, at its best, can be as precise and searing as J.M. Coetzee's... Confirms Rachel Seiffert as one of he most intelligent and ethical writers of her generation."
"Readers who wonder why writers as talented as Martin Amis and the 2006 Man Booker prize winner, Kiran Desai, seem to flinch from writing about their own times should study Ms. Seiffert."