Lament for the Afterlife

This book was sent to me by the author.

lamentfortheafterlife.jpg Lament for the Afterlife is not an easy book to read. Here are some times when you should not try to read it:

  • When you want a straightforward, linear narrative.
  • When you want likeable characters.
  • When you don’t feel like reading about war and/or death.
  • When you want to read about long-term, meaningful and loving relationships.
  • When you don’t want to work at reading.
  • When you just want clarity.

If you don’t fall into these categories, then you may want to approach Lament. Here are some things you need to be ready for:

  • A mosaic novel. Chapters do not follow one another linearly: they are more like snapshots, or vignettes, of different points in time for different characters. Overall the story follows the experiences of Peytr, a young man conscripted for war, and almost half the story I would guess is focussed specifically on him over quite a stretch of time. But other chapters are connected to Peyt only tangentially, and some not at all.
  • Unhappiness. Pretty much every character is unhappy. There’s a variety of reasons, and a variety of expressions, and a variety of consequences. Not a whole lot of resolution, though.
  • Death. There’s a lot. The first half or so is firmly set within the context of war – and war that civilians actually experience; this is Sarajevo or Kabul for its inhabitants, not for the foreign soldiers. And then the second half is focussed on the aftermath of war, which isn’t much more pleasant.
  • Uncertainty. Every single character experiences uncertainty, to a greater or lesser extent (will my son come home? Will I die today? Will I be safe at work?), and this is shared with the reader. The reader also gets their own share of uncertainty because Hannett leaves an enormous amount out. “Our side” are fighting the greys, and have been for ages, but… why? And who even are they? Our side also have things called wordwinds, clouds of words and fragments of thought that circle individuals’ heads… somehow? and they can be physically manipulated sometimes? Those are the big questions; there’s a lot of other tantalising questions that just don’t get addressed. I don’t require spoon-feeding from my books but I did sometimes feel a bit frustrated by the opacity of the world – partly because it made me feel like I’d missed something at some point.
  • Lovely language. Hannett constructs simply beautiful sentences. Her prose is elegant and evocative and creates vibrant images – some of which are unpleasant, but they’re nonetheless powerful.

Lament for the Afterlife is set in a secondary world, but you really only know this thanks to the wordwinds; it could as easily be a post-apocalyptic world, actually, where these ‘winds have somehow developed. It’s one of those stories that feels science fictional, but aside from its setting I’m not sure I can pinpoint quite how, or why. Not that it matters – this is not a novel that is bound by generic conventions, or even playing with them. It just is. It’s not an easy novel to read; it’s not a particularly nice novel to read. It’s challenging and disturbing and sad. It’s very good.

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