Debbie's Reviews > After You'd Gone

After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell
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really liked it
bookshelves: family-drama, favorite-authors, 2018-runners-up, cultural, mostly-not-set-in-u-s
Read 2 times. Last read September 30, 2018 to October 7, 2018.

I could probably read O’Farrell’s grocery list and be mesmerized—I just can’t keep my eyes off her words. They make me relaxed and excited at the same time. This is the fourth book I’m read of hers in the past couple of months, which says something, because I like to sit down with a variety of writers. Once in a blue moon, I’ll read two books by the same author in a year, but no more.

In her other books, O’Farrell makes these gigantic, run-on lists telling us what’s happening. I just love that style. She doesn’t do that in this debut novel, however, but I can see why this book set off her career. She knows how to reel you in, right away.

Behold her first sentence:

“The day she would try to kill herself, she realized winter was coming again.”

I don’t know about you, but I was all ears, pronto-like. Besides a sentence that slays me, everything else is right too. Her language is beauteous, the plot is tight, the atmosphere is vivid. And the best part, for me, are the hefty characters and their thoughts.

Most of the airtime goes to Alice, a young woman in love, although we also hear about her grandmother and mother. I like everything to be a surprise for the reader, so I’m just going to say that the book is about love, grief, and a secret. Oh, O’Farrell and her secrets!

Here is Alice’s secret, which sets up the mystery at the beginning of the book:

“…she saw something so odd and unexpected and sickening that it was as if she’d glanced in the mirror to discover that her face was not the one she thought she had.”

Okay, zap, you’ve got me, Ms. Maggie. You have me right in the palm of your hand, as usual. We don’t find out what Alice saw until the end of the book, which could have pissed me off. But the story is so damn interesting, I waited patiently. The ride there was worth the price of admission.

O’Farrell’s style is unique. She seamlessly mixes up time periods and types of narration, often right in the middle of a page, with no hint that you’re going into another universe. I’ve seen this in all the books of hers I’ve read; I’d say it’s her signature. She does it brilliantly, weaving several stories together with ease, and keeping up the intensity of each storyline. I feel like she has some sort of writing trick up her sleeve. The changes are abrupt, yet your mind makes the switch, lickety-split. Sometimes the point-of-view changes (and the type of narration, too) while everyone is in a room together, so we get to see the action from multiple people, in multiple ways. All very skillfully done. I’ve shoved this book into the hands of lovers of linear, and they’ve liked the book despite their need for sequential.

There were two things that screamed “debut.” First, occasionally (thank god, only occasionally) there’s a self-conscious creative-writing-class sentence, like this one:

“The vibrations of Annie’s strenuous efforts travelled across the table and up the twin-violin-bow bones of Alice’s forearms to reverberate in her cranium.”

Oh come on! Really? Good thing I’m already a big fan, or that sentence might have sent me running. I’m betting O’Farrell worked a long time on that sentence. Personally, I think she should have killed this little darling like any good writing manual would urge.

The other thing the debut detector turned up: A logistical mess that happened right at the beginning. We’re at a train station with Alice, her two sisters, and two small kids. Was one kid holding a hand the whole time? The hand of which sister? Who had the baby? The group hug with three sisters and two kids—hard to picture. I had to read it several times. My mind couldn’t see it because it was a blob of an interaction, and I couldn’t untangle it or the bodies trying to hug each other. The editor must have been snoozing. But the good news is that it was an isolated incident.

I’ve seen some reviewers call this chick lit, but I beg to differ. For one thing, I had to look up many words—you don’t often find killer vocabulary in chick lit. Plus, O’Farrell’s plots are intricate, complicated, and interwoven, also something you don’t often find in chick lit. This is not to say I don’t like chick lit—I do. I just think of this as literary fiction is all.

A silly aside—I know I shouldn’t go by appearances, but I do sometimes: That “you’d” in the book title bugs the hell out of me. It’s not just visual, though; I don’t like the sound either—it’s too deep-sounding and mean. (It rhymes with “booed”—maybe that’s my problem.) Plus, I don’t like contracting the word “had.” Never have, never will. It just sounds wrong, and I cringe every time I see the title.

This book is comfortable and entertaining. It’s not as wonderful as I Am, I Am, I Am or The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, but it’s a good read. O’Farrell fans won’t be disappointed. I doubt I’ll remember the details of the story (like I will with Esme), but the book soothed me. It got me through the Kavanaugh week.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 16, 2014 – Shelved
June 16, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
August 3, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
September 30, 2018 – Started Reading
October 4, 2018 – Shelved as: family-drama
October 5, 2018 – Shelved as: favorite-authors
October 7, 2018 – Finished Reading
November 3, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018-runners-up
June 29, 2019 – Shelved as: cultural
June 29, 2019 – Shelved as: mostly-not-set-in-u-s

Comments Showing 1-37 of 37 (37 new)

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message 1: by Cheri (new) - added it

Cheri Oh, wonderful to know, Debbie!


Angela M Love O’Farrell as I’ve probably already told you . Have this one and another yet to read . Glad she got you through the miserable week . Great review as usual , Debbie.


message 3: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Excellent review! Sounds really good. Adding this one! 😁


message 4: by JanB (new)

JanB Oh Debbie, you know that sentence has me running for the hills and my eyes rolling. Huge pet peeve. I think I’ll skip the backlist and just move forward. Thanks for a great review!


message 5: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson Another O'Farrell to look forward to reading. Terrific review, Debbie.


message 6: by Dem (new)

Dem Great review Debbie. Haven't read this one yet and need to add it to my list. Really enjoy Maggie 0'Farrell books, She is such a talented writer and agree I think her shopping list would make interesting reading too. 😂


Debbie Cheri wrote: "Oh, wonderful to know, Debbie!"

Yeah, this is a keeper—can’t go wrong with O’Farrell!


Debbie Angela M wrote: "Love O’Farrell as I’ve probably already told you . Have this one and another yet to read . Glad she got you through the miserable week . Great review as usual , Debbie."

Thanks, Angela. Yep, I remember you’re in the fan club too! I started with I Am I Am and haven’t stopped!


Debbie Heather wrote: "Excellent review! Sounds really good. Adding this one! 😁"


Thanks, Heather. Hope you get the chance to read it!


Debbie JanB wrote: "Oh Debbie, you know that sentence has me running for the hills and my eyes rolling. Huge pet peeve. I think I’ll skip the backlist and just move forward. Thanks for a great review!"

Thanks, Jan. Lol, you didn’t like that sentence, huh? That’s the only awful one I found (I could have missed a couple of others, of course). But seriously, this is a good one. But if you haven’t read I Am, I Am, I Am, or Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, start there.


Debbie Betsy wrote: "Another O'Farrell to look forward to reading. Terrific review, Debbie."

Thanks, Betsy. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of her language.


Debbie Dem wrote: "Great review Debbie. Haven't read this one yet and need to add it to my list. Really enjoy Maggie 0'Farrell books, She is such a talented writer and agree I think her shopping list would make inter..."

Thanks, Dem. Yeah, I wonder what would be on her shopping list. Kumquats or something else exotic? And maybe she would add little interesting footnotes/asides!


message 13: by JanB (new)

JanB Debbie wrote: "JanB wrote: "Oh Debbie, you know that sentence has me running for the hills and my eyes rolling. Huge pet peeve. I think I’ll skip the backlist and just move forward. Thanks for a great review!"

T..."


Debbie, lol....luckily I have read both the ones you mention and thought both were terrific. But save me from the purple prose!


message 14: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Wonderful review. Even O'Farrell not at her best is so very, very good.


message 15: by Carey (new) - added it

Carey Your reviews are top notch, Debbie! I enjoy following you. I’ve not read Maggie O’farrell yet. Which book of hers should I read first?


message 16: by Bianca (new) - added it

Bianca Beautiful review. I haven't even heard of this one, but I guess I'll have to add it.


message 17: by Karen (new)

Karen Wonderful review Debbie! Adding!


Antoinette This was the first book I read by O’Farrell-bought this book in London- and I absolutely loved it. That was in 2003! I loved your review- brought the book back for me.


Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader Beautiful review, Debbie! I have to read this author soon. You and Cheri have me chomping at the bit!


message 20: by Cheri (new) - added it

Cheri I think this will be the next one of hers I read, Debbie, I'm looking forward to seeing her debut in comparison to the ones I've read. Loved reading your thoughts on this one!


Debbie Lisa wrote: "Wonderful review. Even O'Farrell not at her best is so very, very good."


Thanks, Lisa! I know; she never disappoints!


Debbie Carey wrote: "Your reviews are top notch, Debbie! I enjoy following you. I’ve not read Maggie O’farrell yet. Which book of hers should I read first?"

Thanks so much, Carey! I recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox as a great one to start with. I also loved her memoir (published this year) called I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. That book got me started on my O’Farrell kick!


Debbie Bianca wrote: "Beautiful review. I haven't even heard of this one, but I guess I'll have to add it."

Thanks, Bianca! I wanted to see what she started with. It’s awful good. Not as good as my two faves, but worth reading. Hope you like it.


Debbie Karen wrote: "Wonderful review Debbie! Adding!"

Thanks, Karen. You won’t be sorry!


Debbie Antoinette wrote: "This was the first book I read by O’Farrell-bought this book in London- and I absolutely loved it. That was in 2003! I loved your review- brought the book back for me."

Thanks, Antoinette. Glad I could create some euphoric recall! Have you read her latest, her memoir (I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death? That one made me sit up and notice!


Debbie Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader wrote: "Beautiful review, Debbie! I have to read this author soon. You and Cheri have me chomping at the bit!"

Thanks, Jennifer! I’m glad we have you chomping at the bit, lol! O’Farrell is just amazing!


Debbie Cheri wrote: "I think this will be the next one of hers I read, Debbie, I'm looking forward to seeing her debut in comparison to the ones I've read. Loved reading your thoughts on this one!"

Thanks so much, Cheri! I can’t wait to hear what you think of this one. The style is slightly different from her other books (no long in-line lists), but her signature time period and voice jumps are there.


Jaidee (Away from Goodreads until Feb 2...happy reading) A super smart and super sharp review Debbie ! Why am I not surprised ?


Debbie Jaidee wrote: "A super smart and super sharp review Debbie ! Why am I not surprised ?"

Ah, you're so sweet, Jaidee! Thank you!


message 30: by Esil (new) - added it

Esil Great review that I obviously missed when you posted it. This looks like one I should read.


message 31: by Esil (new) - added it

Esil By the way, have you now read all of her books?


Debbie Esil wrote: "Great review that I obviously missed when you posted it. This looks like one I should read."

Thanks, Esil. Yeah, this is another good one. Not as great as Esme, but they all can't be that good!


Debbie Esil wrote: "By the way, have you now read all of her books?"

No, have only read four of hers. Still have The Hand That First Held Mine (really looking forward to this one) and Instructions for a Heatwave. Thanks to your recon mission, I can skip My Lover's Lover! My favorites are Esme and I Am. I thank you for recommending I Am, which started it all up. So thanks for turning me on to this amazing writer!


message 34: by Esil (new) - added it

Esil Debbie wrote: "Esil wrote: "By the way, have you now read all of her books?"

No, have only read four of hers. Still have The Hand That First Held Mine (really looking forward to this one) and Instructions for a ..."


Let me know when you read The Hand That First Held Mine and Instructions for a Heatwave. I have both of them so I might try to read them around the same time as you :)


Debbie Esil wrote: "Debbie wrote: "Esil wrote: "By the way, have you now read all of her books?"

No, have only read four of hers. Still have The Hand That First Held Mine (really looking forward to this one) and Inst..."


That would be fun! I have 6 books in my NetGalley queue, after swearing off NG for a while. Well, I managed to keep the queue empty for a few months, so I should be proud of that! But now I'm mad I have some in the queue. But I'll be able to slip in The Hand That First Held Mine soon; I'll let you know!


Angela M I’m so glad you love her writing as much as I do, Debbie. Glad it was 4 stars in spite of your reservations.


Debbie Angela M wrote: "I’m so glad you love her writing as much as I do, Debbie. Glad it was 4 stars in spite of your reservations."

I know, O'Farrell is just brilliant. I'm so glad I found her (with the help of Esil, who raved about I Am I Am). I can't imagine ever giving O'Farrell 3 stars for any work, though I remember you all saying that My Lover's Lover wasn't good. There are still two I want to get to in this new year: The Hand That First Held Mine and Instructions for a Heatwave.


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