26 October 2014

Book Review: After I Left You by Alison Mercer

"Anna has not been back to Oxford since her last summer at university, seventeen years ago. She tries not to think about her time there, or the tightly knit group of friends she once thought would be hers forever. She has almost forgotten the fierce sting of betrayal, the heartache, the secret she carries around with her, the last night she spent with them all.

Then a chance meeting on a rainy day in London brings her past tumbling back into her present, and Anna is faced with remembering the events of that summer and the people she left behind. As Anna realises that the events of their past have shaped the people they've all become, hope begins to blossom for what the future could hold . . ."

Rating: 4/5

You can buy After I Left You as a paperback or an eBook now.

I thoroughly enjoyed Alison Mercer's debut novel Stop the Clock last year, it was a fresh voice in women's fiction, and I knew Alison would certainly be one to watch for future releases. She's just released her second novel, called After I Left You and it is quite different to her debut novel. This is set in Oxford, and is the story of a group of graduates who were once the best of friends, but have now been torn apart by a tragedy that occurred many years ago when they were undergraduates at the prestigious university. Anna is unsure that she wants to go back to that time in her life and go through the wave of emotions once more, but finds herself more and more drawn into the group again...

There are some books which take me a few chapters to get into, for whatever reason. However, this was definitely not one of them. Straight away, I was drawn into the story of Anna, and why she was so reluctant to befriend the people she had once been closest to. There are no hints of what went on all those years ago, making it somewhat of a mystery throughout the whole book, and I enjoyed this element of it very much. The book switches between the present day Anna trying to reconcile herself with making a new friendship with these people again, and the younger Anna the student at Oxford University, in the midst of relationships, friendships, and eventually, tragedy. The way Mercer writes the two stories and blends them together as one for the book is cleverly done - at no point was I bored or restless, I wanted to keep reading on to see what was going to occur for the group next.

I liked Anna as the main narrator of the piece. She was very likeable, not overly out-going but wanting to please and make friends with those around her. By the present day, Anna is a bit more withdrawn, keeping herself to herself, and plodding along in life. It's hard to reconcile the two Anna's together, but as things in the past become more clear, it's clear for the reader to see why Anna in the present day is as she is. The others in the group were odd, not exactly likeable but not unlikeable either - I just struggled to develop any feelings for them one way or the other. Perhaps the only one I liked was Victor - Anna's ex-boyfriend. Although he was a bit of a cad in his student days, the older Victor we see was likeable, and you can see why Anna was drawn into trying to form a friendship with him once more.

The setting of Oxford was brilliant. I enjoyed reading about Anna and her group's adventures at the University, whether it was in their dorm rooms, or elsewhere, it was nice to read and easy to imagine as it's somewhere I have visited lots of times myself. Mercer portrays the young student group so realistically, you can believe they get up to everything they do in the book, and why it was Anna struggled so much in the aftermath of the tragedy, and why the group fell apart. All through the present day story, I was hoping Anna would find some peace and happiness, and for her to move on to her own future, not held back by what had happened in her past. You get the sense by the end perhaps this is something that could happen, and I found the ending very satisfactory, certainly room for you to make your own judgments on how things will pan on for these characters.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book from start to finish. At no point was I flagging when I read this, my attention was kept throughout and I enjoyed the whole story. I very much liked the dual narrative of the story, with Anna's student days and her in the present day contrasting really well to deliver an intriguing and fascinating story that looks at the struggle from adolescence to adulthood, and the pitfalls and highs that come with that journey. Mercer's writing is very easy to read, I was able to easily escape into the book each evening, and enjoyed picking it up for a bit more of the story. Definitely recommended.

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