After Before by Jemma Wayne
The title of Jemma Wayne’s highly accomplished début seems, at first glance, a little contradictory. On reading the novel, however, the words begin to make perfect sense, and are, in fact, the most appropriate combination of characters that could have been chosen to describe this book.
After Before follows the emotional journeys of three very different women whose lives are inextricably linked. Bound together by troubled pasts, Vera, Emily and Lynn must each overcome their individual regrets.
‘They didn’t ask her about her hopes, her dreams, her ambitions. They probably assumed she didn’t have any. They probably thought she never had, or that they were it.’
Haunted by the ghosts of her past, Vera is a Christian, new to the world of faith and religion. Her desperate search for love and forgiveness is made all the more difficult as we come to realise that Vera is the only one with the power to transform her life. She must forgive herself in order to move forwards. Lynn, Vera’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, is terminally ill before her time, and consequently filled with resentment and endless ‘what-ifs?’ Our first impressions of her as she snipes at Vera, jealous and bitter, are not wholly positive; however, she eventually finds solace in helping her carer, Emily, come to terms with her own difficult past. Emily, a young survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, unwittingly sheds purpose on Lynn’s life, confusing the boundaries of their relationship and quickly making it unclear who is caring for whom.
‘This was a woman… who inhabited two separate worlds: the one her eyes could see, and the one only her mind could navigate.’
Perhaps the most interesting woman to grace the pages of this book is Lynn. Unlike either Vera or Emily, who have experienced tragic and unlikely events in their lifetimes, Lynn’s story is a familiar one. As Lynn grows increasingly ill, she struggles to accept the way her life has gone – mundane choices, house chores and family ties prevent Lynn from persuing the career she once craved. Now too late to change anything, Lynn must find the courage and confidence to accept her circumstances.
Rising tension between the constraints of religion and freedom of faith tie together the novel’s strands. Vera grapples through darkness to find healing and comfort in the Christian community, while Emily and Lynn turn away, uncertain and hurt by their personal circumstances.
‘…sipping tea across the generations and racial divides and stories that neither of them knew yet.’
These various narratives intertwine seamlessly as each character’s voice follows the last and the tale unravels, revealing a stunningly self-reflective piece of fiction. Exploration of faith, the courage to accept oneself and the capability to forgive are rife throughout this heavily female text.