A distraught young woman boards a train at King's Cross to return to her family in Scotland. Six hours later, she catches sight of something so terrible in a mirror at Waverley Station that she gets on the next train back to London, where a traffic accident leaves her in a coma. After You'd Gone follows Alice's mental journey into how she came to be this way, as she twists together threads of memory in a plot that grips from the outset.
It is a love story which is also a story of absence - we discover that Alice's lover, John, has been dead for a year by the time the book starts - and of parental legacies: how actions and choices can reverberate in following generations. Slowly, we are drawn closer to a dark secret at the family's heart, as Alice begins to wonder whether she will ever be whole again, or even survive.
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A memorable family saga
Smoke and mirrors
Yes, listening to the book brought over the pathos, the passion and the joy in the story. Our book group reviewed this book and several of us listened to it rather than read it - those who listened all agreed it was an excellent book, those who read were ambivalent, some not even finishing it, saying it was too sad and depressing. The mystery of what Alice saw in the washroom is only revealed in the last few pages - like smoke swirling around and images reflected in mirrors you can't see the whole picture until all the pieces suddenly fall into place and it all becomes clear.
The slow unravelling of Alice's story - in particular the visit to the shop when she is given a string of pearls as a gift. As the reader you know the motive but Alice does not and you wonder if Elspeth, her grandmother, realises and that makes her tell Alice to return them. The absolute desolation that engulfs her after the death of John is so real, so vivid. The characters are well drawn, right down to the elusive father-in-law who comes up trumps at the end of the book.
The accents, the timbre and intonation - all excellent. I was never conscious of listening to someone reading a book aloud, it was just as if I were reading it.
I don't recall laughing much but I definitely cried in several places - the anguish felt by Alice and the despair were so well described. You knew what was coming and had to wait for her find out - that was so, so sad.
I enjoyed this book, despite it being sad, so much that I have bought another to listen to. I have also recommended that those who read the paper book should try listening to it to see if it changes their opinion of the storyline.
- Liz Carter