Monday, December 16, 2013

Author Spotlight: Rosamund Lupton

I have my friend Lani to thank for discovering this great new author, since she's the one that coerced and guilted me into reading Rosamund Lupton's debut novel Sister; she did so with cries for reciprocity since according to her she reads every book I recommend (she doesn't really) but I don't do the same with her recommendations, I'll take the fifth on that. Ultimately, I was very grateful for her persistence because the book turned out to be a compelling and memorable read. Impressed by Lupton's brilliant debut, I then searched for any other novels she might have published and found Afterwards. While both books are mystery thrillers which highlight through their characters the dynamics involved in varying familial bonds (in one obviously sisters, hence the title, and the other a mother/daughter relationship), Afterwards differentiates itself in its use of a paranormal narrative device which allows through the use of an out of body experience both main characters in the book free license to roam despite their physical limitations and in turn have access to people, conversations and events which they wouldn't have otherwise.

Prior to these two novels, Lupton was a copywriter and reviewer for the Literary Review, as well as a script-writer for television and film, writing original screenplays. Having read both novels, the reader can definitely appreciate Lupton's reliance on her screenwriter's sensibility in crafting well-developed characters, as well as scenes and dialogue that are tense, powerful and suspenseful on the page but which you can also readily imagine on the screen. Whether by intent or accident, film seems to be the final destination for most well-written and successful books nowadays and Sister and Afterwards I'm sure will be no exception to that rule.

I loved both books and would eagerly and whole-heartedly recommend each to family and friends. The mysteries, twists and red herrings in each keep things interesting and readers turning the page, but it is the family drama and the bonds of love covered in each that pack the emotional punch and make them more than your typical whodunnit. Whether it was Bee's search for the truth behind her sister's death or Grace's determined zeal in protecting her son and daughter, each exemplifies the lengths and sacrificies which we are willing to make for those we love. At their heart, they are truly stories of love and courage that merely rely on cryptic crimes and clever storytelling to better capture a reader's attention.

Sister. When her mom calls to tell her that Tess, her younger sister, is missing, Bee returns home to London on the first flight. Tess has always been a free spirit, an artist who takes risks, while conservative Bee couldn’t be more different. Bee is used to watching out for her wayward sibling and is fiercely protective of Tess (and has always been a little stern about her antics). But then Tess is found dead, apparently by her own hand. Bee is certain that Tess didn't commit suicide. Their family and the police accept the sad reality, but Bee feels sure that Tess has been murdered. Single-minded in her search for a killer, Bee moves into Tess's apartment and throws herself headlong into her sister's life — and all its secrets...As a determined Bee gives her statement to the lead investigator, her story reveals a predator who got away with murder — and an obsession that may cost Bee her own life.

Afterwards. The school is on fire. Her children are inside. Grace runs toward the burning building, desperate to reach them. In the aftermath of the devastating fire which tears her family apart, Grace embarks on a mission to find the person responsible and protect her children from further harm. This fire was not an accident, and her daughter Jenny may still be in grave danger. Grace is the only one who can discover the culprit, and she will do whatever it takes to save her family and find out who committed the crime that rocked their lives. While unearthing truths about her life that may help her find answers, Grace learns more about everyone around her — and finds she has courage she never knew she possessed.

As a sister myself, though to two brothers, I could totally relate to the inexorable bond which is at the heart of Sister's emotional narrative. The kind of bond that transcends words, distance, time and even death. Bee relates her story, both uncovering the truth behind Tess' murder and the events which were its precursor, to the reader in the form of a letter to Tess; a letter which she writes because she simply needs to talk to her or run the risk of losing a part of herself. So despite doubts about the true depths of their closeness, her own emotional turmoil, and risks to her own safety, Bee zealously digs for the truth, questioning a possible stalker, an ex-professor and more in her unquenching thirst for justice. The twists and revelations are both gripping and at times emotionally draining, as each page is fraught with tension, suspense and the utter poignancy of Bee's love which you feel right up to the last words of the book ("I'm sorry. I love you. I always will)."

As I said Afterwards had the paranormal aspect to the story which made it different and interesting. As we meet Grace she shares with the reader waking up "trapped under the hull of a vast ship wrecked on the ocean floor" and slipping out of the wrecked ship of her body and swimming upwards towards the daylight. After seeing the "body part of her" in the hospital bed she frantically searches for and finds her daughter, who is also critically injured. Her out of body eavesdropping permits Grace to learn about the extent of their injuries, while also searching for the truth about the fire and the shadowy figure she sees trying to visit Jenny's hospital room. As events transpire and secrets are revealed, similar to Bee's letter to Tess in Sister, Grace shares her fears and discoveries with the reader through a running dialogue to her husband, despite the fact that he can't actually hear her.

In Afterwards I found the mystery surrounding the fire and its culprit a little weak, but was totally blown away by the rest of the novel; a story of a mother's incredible love for her child ("For nine months, I'd had her heart beating inside my body, two heartbeats for every one of mine...The girl I'd recognize among a thousand faces. My second heartbeat"), and the depths to which that unswerving love will take her. Afterwards is beautiful, heartbreaking, and haunting; a tale that you will talk about for days and carry in your heart for longer.