Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 7, 2021

Here in the After, by Marion Frith

If anything in this review raises issues for you, help is available at Beyond Blue, or your local mental health services.


Marion Frith’s debut novel Here in the After is the story of the aftermath of terrorism, based loosely on the 2014 siege in the Lindt café in Sydney.  It’s about two characters linked by the experience of trauma: an Afghan Vet living with PTSD seeks out Anna, the sole survivor of the (fictional) Post Office siege, and they find unexpected comfort from one another.

Frith deftly captures the dilemma of those trying to support people living with PTSD, beginning with the wife who’s living with a man’s explosive anger.  Nat isn’t violent towards Gen but his rages are unpredictable and frightening, and he has given up on professional help.  Her friend Claire is worried that these rages will escalate into domestic violence and that being patient and understanding puts Gen at risk. Gen is dancing on eggshells while trying not to trigger ‘The Incredible Hulk’ but, she tells Claire, she’s not scared of him, he’s not trying to control or hurt her and is often gentle and romantic.  Claire is a lawyer and has heard all this before from battered women, but Gen is adamant that she’s not a boiling frog.  She’s riding out Nat’s PTSD because she has seen the best of him and is still ‘in the marriage.’  So the narrative tension is there from the start as the reader absorbs the implications of this situation, and is also alert to the possibility that Nat has been involved in the Australian atrocities in Afghanistan that are currently under investigation.

For Anne’s family, being supportive means struggling with the unknown and having to put boundaries in place.  Anna was badly hurt in the siege, was in hospital for weeks, and is now at home is refusing professional help.  Her adult children and their partners are hovering around, unwilling to leave her alone… while she craves solitude because she thinks no one understands anyway.  Battling with appalling images from the siege that won’t leave her alone, she latches onto her two-year-old grandchild Ollie as a distraction and a comfort.  She wants him to stay overnight, but Laura and Cameron won’t have their child used as a security blanket when Anna clearly isn’t stable.  It’s hard for them to say this, especially since Anna isn’t being honest with herself about her condition, but they refuse her request… The deterioration in these family relationships show how some of the victims of terrorism are not always directly involved.

Nat, battling demons stirred up by the advent of homegrown terrorism derived from an ideology he’d fought against in Afghanistan, feels a failure.  When the terrorists raised that foul flag and shouted their religious slogans and killed eleven people, his reaction was to believe that he didn’t do his job and he’s responsible.  He sets out to find Anna and apologise to her, so that he can be forgiven.  When finally they meet up it doesn’t go as expected because Anna wants to — needs to — believe that the siege was a random crime and not part of a wider problem.  She is torn between not wanting to normalise it by desensitising herself to what happened out of respect for the victims, but she doesn’t want to remember the siege all the time either.  Neither one actually knows the full story of what happened to cause the trauma for the other, but they do find comfort in recognising the confusion, the denial, and the inability to control their own responses to it.

As the story progresses and the hidden truths are revealed, Frith shows how the limitations of amateur counselling arise.  Both Nat and Anna mean well, but they send mixed messages in different ways.  Nat tells Anna that it will never stop being so big, but that she’ll learn to live with the pain, and to live well with it.  Although he hardly knows her, he offers her the platitude that he feels sure that she’ll get through it.  OTOH Anna lectures him when he confesses his doubts about impending fatherhood to her, and her clumsy cliff-top spiritual ritual to honour the lives that he’s taken has a disastrous impact.

Here in the After could easily have lapsed into melodrama or sentimentality, but Frith keeps control of the plot and offers a credible hope in the concluding chapters.

Thanks to Jennifer at Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large for bringing this novel to my attention.

Author: Marion Frith
Title: Here in the After
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2021
ISBN: 9781460759967, pbk., 313 pages
Source: Kingston Library


Responses

  1. Sounds incredible. I’ve seen this one about and been curious.

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  2. This sounds interesting as to what happens to people after these type of events but think I’ll pass on reading it. So often we forget about victims after the event as we merrily travel our own paths. You did such a wonderful job of describing this story. 🐧🌷

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    • I think that’s right, Pam. These events get dredged up by the media on significant anniversaries, but in between people just have to get on with it (and sometimes they make the mistake of not seeking professional help).

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  3. A terrific read in my view. I am so glad you liked it, Lisa.

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    • I remember reading another Australian novel by a well-known journalist which covered so many issues it lost its way. IMO This novel shows that it’s much better to tackle one issue i all its complexity and do it really well.

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  4. Some of this resonates with what I read recently in Mona Awad’s All’s Well, about pain, bodily and otherwise; she pokes at the idea that, in treatment, she is constantly given conflicting advice (use heat, use ice; exercise, rest; elevate, lower, etc.). Ultimately a lot of it comes down to the individual, doesn’t it.

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    • Well, yes, we’re all different. But I’m a great believer in getting a bit of counselling when things are really fraught. I’ve only ever needed it twice, but it made such a difference when I was gently led to the realisation that there was a different way of looking at things which I hadn’t explored before.

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