Reviewed by Janine Cobain
That was the day that Mama made the rules: If they come, run. Be quiet and run. But not together. Never together. If one is found, at least the other survives....
During a cold, British winter, three women reach crisis point. Emily, an immigrant survivor of the Rwandan genocide is existing but not living. Vera, a newly Christian Londoner is striving to live a moral life, her happiness constantly undermined by secrets from her past. Lynn, battling with an untimely disease, is consumed by bitterness and resentment of what she hasn't achieved and what has been snatched from her.
Each suffering their own demons, their lives have been torn open by betrayal: by other people, by themselves, by life itself. But as their paths interweave, they begin to unravel their beleaguered pasts, and inadvertently change each other's futures.
If you’re looking for a light cheerful read to pass some time on the beach this summer – this book isn’t for you. This is a hard read, in more ways than one.
Each of the characters is given such depth that you are drawn in and experience their circumstances first hand; Vera, striving to be good and present a clean, God-fearing image while her past bubbles inside, threatening her mental stability with each rhyme she recites; Lynne, trying to come to terms with the loss of herself through the sacrifices she has made to be a good wife and mother and the terminal illness that takes away her chance of a second wind, and Emily; hiding the physical and mental scars she received as a survivor of the Rwandan atrocities. The detailed descriptions of Emily’s experiences during the genocide are not for the faint-hearted; the writing paints such a vivid picture that I saw the wounds, heard the screams and experienced the sights, and scents.
Jemma Wayne’s style of writing gives such form to the characters, places, and emotions that they are tangible. The switch in tense for Vera’s point of view gives her an almost manic, urgent quality, that when coupled with the insertion of her distracted thought processes – nursery rhymes, prayers and mantras - gives an excellent portrayal of someone whose mental state is compromised.
So, while this is in no way a light read, it is a powerful, and beautifully written novel and it is worth submerging yourself into the rich, emotive pages. Among the deep, painful reminisces of Emily’s past, Lynne’s musing over a life lost, and the description of Vera’s heartfelt anguish there are some wonderfully simple lines that are just exquisite – “A single cloud meandered boldly across the horizon and Emily watched it.” You can see that cloud, right?
Never has the adage ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ been more apt here; while the chocolate and cream split is eye-catching, and the change in texture between the two colours makes me stroke it, the paisley detail is just wrong - in my opinion - but then I’ve never been a fan of paisley.
After Before is a fabulously crafted novel that entwines the lives of three very different women, each of whom have demons from the past that threaten their future. Amazingly, this is Jemma Wayne’s debut novel, I sincerely hope there are many more.
I'd like to thank Lucy at Legend Press for sending a copy of this book to Janine to review.