After I’ve Gone, Linda Green

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The Premise

Jess Mount is a normal woman, with a job, a best friend and some sadness and secrets in her past, until the day she meets Lee. Lee sweeps her off her feet, taking her out for new experiences and adventures and showing her the life she could have. On the day she meets him, her facebook feed starts showing up posts mourning her death… 18 months in the future. Can Jess change the future without jeopardising her relationship with Lee, and the son they will have together? Or are some things guaranteed to happen?

The Verdict – CAUTION WILL IMMEDIATELY CONTAIN SPOILERS

The blurb and premise of this novel are intriguing and Green attempts to hold this throughout the novel, staying true to the framework she has decided to write in. That said, the fascinating literary device of seeing your future on facebook, is not used to its fullest potential. In those blasted book club questions at the back of the book (which always wind me up), the first one queries ‘Does it matter that you never find out how or if the facebook posts are sent from the future?’. Yes, actually, I think it does. This was a really interesting idea that was undermined by constant reference to Jess’ mental state and really under explained and over exploited. Green over stretches herself by showing three timelines – past Jess, present Jess and future facebook Jess. The past Jess wasn’t actually necessary – what those sections told us, we could have worked out, or could have been better ingrained into the main narrative. The facebook posts were interesting and key to the progress of the story, but they were essentially ignored in the conclusion and that was really frustrating.

That said, there is possibly more depth to it than that. Perhaps the facebook posts are a delusion. Jess meets Lee and they immediately strike up a very intense relationship. Perhaps her subconscious mind has judged him correctly immediately (here I will spoil the plot and reveal that Lee is abusive) and is trying to protect Jess from the harm that it recognises that Lee can cause. In that case it could be an interesting pyschoanalytical tool – the posts do reveal new information as Jess learns it (for example, the first post that mentions Emma, Lee’s ex, happens after Jess hears her name from his mother). Jess’ mind is taking the information given to her in the real world and is translating it into a warning.

However, the facebook page becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Jess only says yes to Lee’s proposal of marriage (which is very early in their relationship) BECAUSE the facebook pages have shown that they get married. She allows them to guide her decisions, which really just doesn’t work and is very frustrating. Jess makes one effort to change her future, by deciding to wear a different wedding dress, and gives up the moment this doesn’t work out. Jess stops making her own choices long before Lee’s true character comes to light because of what she has read on the facebook page and because there is no satisfactory explanation of the delusion, or posts, this is inconsistent with the narrative.

Harsh criticism aside, Green really portrays the early stages of an abusive relationship with emotional power. Lee’s actions – taking Jess on a surprise trip, proposing after a few months, buying her clothes etc. – all come across as relatively romantic, but with hindsight demonstrate a controlling and demanding personality. This was especially poignant when Jess has agreed to go to her best friends sister’s birthday party and can’t spend her one evening off with Lee. Instead of going to the party, Lee appears with an offer Jess can’t turn down, bribing her with gifts, sex and a work meal to go out with him instead of her friend. This is in the early stages of the relationship and represents the isolation that Lee is determined Jess needs from her social circles. It is later echoed when he doesn’t allow Jess to attend her mother’s grave on Christmas day. What Green captures especially well is the abuse before it becomes physical. We only see Lee hit Jess once, and that’s enough for her – she decides to leave because she knows what is coming. Prior to that, she has had all the evidence before her in the facebook posts, which she truly believes in, and has not managed to leave. She keeps making excuses for Lee, hoping that he will be different when their married, or when their son is born. Having never been in an abusive relationship, I can’t say for certain, but from what I understand, this is a common mindset – especially when Lee is apologetic and spoils her after his outbursts.

I was infuriated by Angela’s comment towards the end of the novel when Jess tells her that Lee hit her: ‘yes, but he hated himself for it’. Throughout the novel, Angela is so desperate to be with her grandson that she puts Jess’ life at risk, even physically assaulting her. She claims that Lee hated himself for hitting Jessica, however, this is a symptom of the abuser. We know from Emma’s earlier testimony (through the facebook posts) that he hit her and the first time he was apologetic afterwards. Despite finally seeing the habit has passed from father to son, Angela is still in denial and still eager to protect her son from what he has done. I felt like this undermined the progression Angela had made, and did not bode well for any of Lee’s future relationships.

Overall it was an intriguing premise which didn’t live up to expectations. I feel like the novel was powerful enough in its portrayal of domestic abuse, without having to use a gimmick to draw the reader’s interest initially. I have mixed feelings over whether I’d read a Linda Green book again – I wouldn’t not pick it up but I certainly shan’t be looking for it.

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