“Afterwards” by Rachel Seiffert

The style of writing is very conversational. No beauty, not even many full sentences. The sort of writing with not many verbs. Just reportage,and not always very grammatical, like you were hearing someone tell you it on the phone.

That part didn’t work for me, but the advantage of it was that it focused my attention entirely on the characters, all of which were strong and fascinating. What made them successful, too, was that while much was revealed about them, important things were also withheld, so that they felt elusive in a way. This particularly applies to Joseph, not surprisingly, as he was traumatised by his time in the army in Northern Ireland and his killing of a man at a checkpoint. His girlfriend Alice we know best, but even she is far from simple. And then there’s her grandfather David, hard to understand until we hear him talking about his time in Kenya, the bombs he dropped on Mau Mau fighters, just seeing the explosions in the forest below and never really knowing how many he was killing.

The novel resists easy answers or judgements – well, any answers or judgements really. It is political without seeming polemic, and none of the characters feel like caricatures or representatives of a position (except perhaps Alice’s stepfather, who doesn’t play much of a role except as a representative of the unthinking antimilitary position, criticising David without attempting to understand his position.

I have got behind with my reviewing so it’s been a while since I read this, but those are the main things I remember. What I took from it for my own writing was that much could be communicated without making explicit points, that very functional writing helps to focus attention on the character development, and that characters can feel “real” and rounded while at the same time remaining somewhat elusive and unknowable even to themselves.

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