image After Before: Jemma Wayne

I had this book recommended to me by the very wonderful Donald Winchester, literary agent at Watson, Little. It’s a pretty harrowing read at times, but so cleverly done.

Three women are struggling to come to terms with their lives in modern day Britain – Emily, an immigrant survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Lynn, fighting against a disease that is slowly killing her, and Vera, a woman trying so hard to be a Christian that she’ll do almost anything.

Each of these women are running from something, trying to escape a past. Their lives become tangled and there are real moments of poignancy when they interact – Emily is a cleaner for Lynn, Vera is marrying Lynn’s son – and the drama of the story is drip-fed to the reader as we go. The horrors of this book, particularly the recounting of the genocide, of course – are not easy to read; Emily’s embodiment of the suffering of so many is painful to imagine and the descriptions of her flashbacks and her physical memories of the horrific events are brutal.

I think the three different characters work well in this book – for me, Emily is the strongest, followed by Lynn – I found parts of Vera’s narrative a little bit out of place. However as the stories continued and merged together, Wayne manages to give us a convincing and almost inspiring account of how human courage and love can outweigh all else; how people can learn from each other, help each other, forgive each other and in turn free themselves from their own demons. I felt sorry for the three women; Lynn who gave up everything to try to be content with her husband and sons and is now left alone in a big rambling house, Vera who hasn’t take cocaine for 602 days and cannot tell her fiance about her wild past, and of course Emily, who has suffered the most in one of the most shocking events of the century. I did feel that the juxtaposition of Emily’s pain and the other characters jarred a little at times, as for me I felt they were not really comparable – but the overarching theme of forgiveness shone through particularly well at the end and the narratives did thread together to form a very rich, meaty text with multiple layers. I could not predict the way this book developed (always a good thing) and Jemma Wayne is certainly a writer to watch.

*Addition – this book was longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2015 – well deserved.

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