After Before by Jemma Wayne – published by Legend Press
Emily, Vera and Lynn: three women with very different backgrounds. Emily is a Rwandan refugee, scarred both emotionally and physically by the genocide there. Vera swings between memories of her drug and drink-laden past and a present in which she seeks redemption for her previous life through Christianity and Lynn, brittle but determined to control the progress of her fatal condition, is beleaguered not by its symptoms but by the regrets that surface as she looks back on her life.
Something of a slow burner, this book weaves the stories together, bringing the women into contact with each other and creating a context for their personal experiences around issues of faith and spirituality. Whilst relatively realistic, some elements of the story are symbolic and some players too – John, one of Lynn’s sons, is not much more than a character sketch and Omar, who appears towards the end of the story, is almost a caricature. I found one key element of the denouement unconvincing, but, not wishing to be a spoiler I won’t go into details. Let me just say it won’t spoil anybody’s enjoyment of the resolution of this novel, even if they find it as unlikely as I did. Hint for those who do read the novel – scene takes place in the kitchen!
Given those minor caveats this is an accomplished piece of work, giving equal depth to three stories of life and loss that converge and diverge only to converge again in a well-balanced exploration of women’s lives. Wayne paces the book well, keeping each storyline moving forward and giving us alternate glimpses of the women through each other’s eyes that create momentary startlements for the protagonists and the reader alike.
London is also one of the players in this story and it’s well rendered; Emily’s life in a tower block and Lynn’s in a comfortable suburban home are beautifully juxtaposed, while no urban commuter could fail to recognise the daily details of Vera’s existence.
Above all this is a redemptive novel without any easy sentimentality – Wayne succeeds in bringing the reader to a point of acceptance along with her protagonists and that’s a major achievement. This book is likely to appeal to serious readers, to those interested in moral, ethical and spiritual issues, and to anybody who wonders whether a life that strays off course can ever be restored to the path. Highly recommended.