Review: AFTER LIFE by Rhian Ellis

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AFTER LIFE
By Rhian Ellis
First Publisher: Viking Adult; July 2000
Reprint Publisher: AmazonEncore; June 2012
Length: 292 pages

For Naomi Ash, growing up the daughter of a clairvoyant medium exposed her to the chicanery of a business where telling people what they want to hear is the only currency. And the sleepy hamlet of Train Line, New York, nestled against a frigid lake in the westernmost fringes of the state, was founded on, built, and is still sustained by it. Now a young woman and a practicing medium herself, Naomi still lives in the place that nourished and raised her — the place where she fell in love.

Love, however, can be deadly. And the secrets behind the fake and the fraud, behind her deepest desires and greatest fears, and behind the lies and truths of her life collide with ferocity and quiet consequence, a profound duality that pervades the past and the present, and crosses the line between the living and the dead.

I’m not sure where I first heard about AFTER LIFE, but when I saw it at the library, I snatched it up.  It’s a unique murder mystery in that we know from the first page that the protagonist Naomi Ash has killed her boyfriend Peter, and the mystery is discovering how and why she did it.  After his bones are unearthed a decade later, Naomi begins to tell us about it.  The story alternates between present day events and Naomi’s memories of past events leading up to Peter’s death.

Naomi is a medium, just like her mother. They moved to a spiritualist colony in Train Line, New York, when she was young.  Spiritualism is a religious belief that there is an alternate world where spirits of the dead live and certain people (mediums) can communicate with them.  One theme that plays back and forth throughout the book is fake versus real.  Naomi herself didn’t believe in it as a child as she watched how her mother “fudged” spiritual readings to make it more believable to her clients.  Whether her mother was a true medium or not, I don’t know, but Naomi seemed like the real deal to me.

…and we need each other, the dead and the living. Our lives are meaningless without the afterlife, and well, their lives are meaningless without the…antedeath.

Naomi is one of the most lost and lonely heroines I’ve read.  After finishing the book, I’m still not sure how I feel about her.  I don’t dislike her in spite of what she did.  I mostly feel sad for her and for Peter.

The story was well written, and I enjoyed the rich descriptions the author used for the sights, smells, and characters.

On the lake, I rowed hard, my feet braced somewhat awkwardly on either side of Peter.  Mist still hung over the surface, and droplets clung to my eyelashes and hair.  The lake had been carved by glaciers; it was long and slender as a crooked finger.

It’s hard to say what, exactly, AFTER LIFE was about.  It was many things.  Peter’s death. Naomi’s life.  Her relationship with her eccentric mother.  Spiritualism.  What’s real and what we hope is real.

I enjoyed the author’s engaging writing style.  It felt like I was in the story listening to Naomi tell me about her life, and I was hanging on every word.  The plot was slow-paced in spots, because she did go into a lot of detail about everyday events, some of them didn’t seem to move the story along, but maybe they would have meaning to another reader.

AFTER LIFE was a haunting tale to say the least, one that left me with lots to think about.  I’m glad I read it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read more from this author.  Recommended!