Hazel McHaffie


Literary choices

Charles Ross appleAutumn leaves





As the cold winds whip through the cracks and the snow gleams on the hills, my mind goes back to that wonderful Indian summer we were enjoying a few weeks ago. Temperatures into the 20s, mmm. Vibrant colours, cloudless blue skies. Remember them? Far too glorious to be inside, so I split my working days between my study – pressing on with publication of Inside of Me – and out in the garden – reading. And now that warmth and sunshine is a memory I’m so glad I seized the moment.

Afterwards Afterwardsby Rosamund Lupton seemed like a good choice. One that would make made me usefully ponder literary tactics and styles. And perhaps question my own preferences.

Plot: a private school maliciously set on fire; teenage Jenny trapped inside; her mother running into the blaze to rescue her; her young brother paralysed with fear left outside; a sinister presence hovering around the ICU; the unravelling of marriages and secrets in the hunt for the arsonist.

Verdict: Instant hook, plenty of ongoing tension to juggle with. Tick.

The range of suspects: a presumed wife-beater, a touchy-feely male teacher recently sacked from the school, an 8-year-old boy, and an unknown stalker who’s been threatening Jenny with everything from hate-mail, excreta through the letter box, paint being thrown over her, to an oxygen tube being tampered with.

Verdict: Lots of false trails and no, I didn’t guess the real culprit too early. Tick.

Unusual literary tactic: Jenny and her mum are spirits now, freed from their damaged bodies lying immobile in hospital. They can penetrate anywhere; a useful literary device to give the reader insights, observe actions, know thoughts.

Verdict: Not sure. Saw the point; had difficulty suspending disbelief.

Narrative style: Second person. Hmm, my least favourite style, I confess. The ‘you’ in this case is Jenny’s dad; the narrator her mum. But it works in that it tracks the whole family’s responses to this tragedy.

Verdict: It was fit for purpose but didn’t win me over to second person narration. Am I getting too set in my ways?

Little literary gems:

A woman police officer speaks in her ‘uniform-and-truncheon voice’.

The mother, Grace, is running towards the burning school at ‘the velocity of a scream’.

The smoke went into her lungs and she was ‘breathing barbed wire’.

Memories from the past become ‘a paracetamol for my aching mind’.

‘Hard lines of misery are scraped across‘ Jenny’s grandmother’s face. Medical facts hit her ‘like flying glass, cutting new lines’.

Jenny’s phone is a teenage ‘life in eight centimetres of plastic’.

Grace is told that the ovaries of her twenty week female fetus are already formed. ‘I felt the future curled up inside me: my body a Russian doll of time.’

Verdict: Huge admiration (tinged with envy maybe?) for the author’s ability to toss in such evocative phrases. Tick. Tick.

OVERALL: An enjoyable and thought-provoking read during our extended summer, and a wake up call not to prejudge any aspect of a writer’s style. Everyone deserves a fair hearing.Reading in the autumn sun

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