I’m delighted that this month I’ve actually managed to read the book for the U3A reading group to which I belong. Our choice this time was The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook and I’m looking forward to our group discussions and to finding out what everyone else thought.
Published by Penguin, The Aftermath is available for purchase through the publisher links here.
In the bitter winter of 1946, Rachael Morgan arrives in the ruins of Hamburg. Here she is reunited with her husband Lewis, a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city.
As they set off for their new home Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an extraordinary decision: they will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower and his troubled daughter.
In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.
My Review of The Aftermath
Rachel’s arrival in Hamburg may not be the glorious reunion with husband Lewis they might hope for.
It took me a while to tune in to The Aftermath. Initially I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it because it is a very intense, almost intimate, read that needed my full attention when my brain was occupied elsewhere. I think it says a great deal about the quality of Rhidian Brook’s writing that he drew me in and captivated me as a reader almost in spite of myself so that I thoroughly enjoyed, or rather, appreciated, The Aftermath as it is quite a disturbing book in many ways. I have found myself thinking about it long after I’ve finished reading it. I did find it challenging at times, having to drag up my O’Level German and look up some vocabulary but I think that adds to the book’s success. This wasn’t an easy period as different nationalities had to adjust and work together so some challenge in the reading is a perfect indication of that period in history. I thought the overall quality of the prose was masterful.
The description of post-war Hamburg is devastatingly vivid making for an often disturbing and disquieting sensation as I read. Ozi’s apparel in particular gave me a greater insight into the time than any factual history has managed, so that I had an understanding of events at a very individual level. I’d defy anyone to read The Aftermath and not be altered or moved by it or to learn from it. I experienced several sensations, from an underlying fear for Lewis and Edmund in particular, to loathing of some of the military characters, sadness for many, including the Trummerkinder, and an early contempt for Rachel, despite her loss, that transformed into understanding and, ultimately, admiration. Indeed, it is Rhidian Brook’s ability to manipulate me as a reader that is so skilful and that I found highly effective.
I loved the title. There are numerous ‘aftermaths’ reverberating through the plot and themes. To say too much would spoil the plot, but the aftermaths of war, separation, loss, guilt, infidelity, action and inaction, need and desire all form a maelstrom of meaning that I’m still contemplating. So often I found myself wondering what I might have done, or how I might have behaved and my answers were not always comfortable ones. It’s this insight into humanity that I found so intense and thought provoking.
Having begun The Aftermath not fully engaged and wondering if I would complete it, I ended the book filled with admiration for Rhidian Brook’s honed and manipulative prose. I found it atmospheric, captivating and swirling with meaning and emotion. I really recommend The Aftermath.
About Rhidian Brook
Rhidian Brook is an award-winning writer of fiction, television drama and film. His first novel, The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, won several prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Paris Review, New Statesman and Time Out, and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He is also a regular contributor to ‘Thought For The Day’ on the Today programme.