Afterwards by Rachel Seiffert – a review
How much are we allowed to know about those we love?
Joseph’s crippling post-traumatic stress comes from an incident that happened during his time in the army in Ireland. The event itself may not have been traumatic to another soldier. Someone was killed, but only during the normal course of duty. There was no bomb involved, no massacre, not even the death of an innocent. A more or less average day at a border patrol meant Joseph had to pull the trigger to save the life of a comrade.
This novel revisits, in some measure, the themes of Seiffert’s previous work, particularly her take on guilt. But although it is a study in the mechanics of post-traumatic stress syndrome, it also addresses the topic of memory.
Joseph’s memory is ambiguous to say the least. He does not seem able to remember what happened, who he was before the trauma, nor who he is supposed to be to his girlfriend, Alice, or to his sister or parents or friends.
His single obsession, although ostensibly the frightening thing that happened to him, is, in reality, himself. Because of this self-obsession he can no longer relate to anyone else with any degree of reality. Because he fears he will run out of control he can no longer tolerate the existence of others around him. He reaches out to them from time to time, but any or no response is liable to see him overwhelmed with rage.
This is a competent novel, perhaps a courageous one. But after the bright promise of the Booker shortlisted The Dark Room(2001), it is ultimately disappointing.