After Story by Larissa Behrendt
Burnt out after a disturbing homicide case, lawyer Jasmine takes a leap of faith and invites her mother Della to join her on a literary tour of England. Della has never travelled far beyond Frog Hollow, the tight-knit community where she raised her three daughters, and the place where her eldest daughter Brittany disappeared as a child. Jasmine and Della join a tour group in London and wend their way through a series of locations related to literary greats: the factory where Dickens worked as a child, the cottage at Chawton where Austen wrote Emma and Persuasion, the Oxford college where Lewis Carroll spent most of his career.
Told from mother-daughter alternating perspectives, After Story is a powerful meditation on family, culture, storytelling and the lingering effects of trauma and grief. Jasmine, an avid reader from childhood, has pursued an academic and professional life in the city that has left her feeling distanced from her mum and remaining sister. Della is still reeling from the recent death of Jimmy, her ex-partner and the father of her daughters. Both women hope the tour will bring them closer together, but at first it only widens the space between them.
Travel brings home into relief. Learning about the troubled lives of British writers underscores their own complicated relationships. Visiting historical sites causes both Jasmine and Della to muse on the depth and extent of Aboriginal living culture and the injustices and crimes of Australian history. Their late Aunty Elaine is keenly missed; her stories, wisdom and teachings surface, again and again. The humorously factional tour group reminds Jasmine of the difficulties of being a young Aboriginal woman in White- and male-dominated spaces. Curious first-time traveller Della has mind-expanding experiences, but when a local missing girl dominates the news, difficult memories resurface and she begins to lean on her long-time crutch, alcohol.
This is an extraordinary novel by award-winning author, filmmaker and law professor Larissa Behrendt, a Eualeyai/Kamillaroi woman. After Story is sprawling, cerebral and compassionate. It feeds the brain, offers much-needed vicarious travel and leaves the reader with hope that fraught relationships can be mended.