Longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, After Story is a tale of family, healing and personal atonement as an indigenous mother and daughter travel together to the UK.
A recent law graduate, Jasmine has long moved away from her home and community. Hers is now a Sydney life with a small group of professional indigenous women as friends. The youngest daughter of three, twenty-five years earlier the disappearance of Jasmine’s older sister Brittany devastated their tight-knit community – and put both of her parents firmly in the media spotlight. When Jasmine finds herself with two places on an organised literary trip touring some of England’s most revered literary sites, inexplicably she decides to take Della with her. It’s the first time her mother has travelled overseas.
With the disappearance of Brittany, family life fell apart with the parents under suspicion. At less than three years old at the time, Jasmine barely remembers her sister. Her parents split up and, with Della drunk more often than sober, Jasmine was raised by Aunty Elaine. Not a blood relative, it was she who embodied the power of women and keepers of tradition as well as introducing Jasmine to reading of the English novels of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Relations between mother and daughter have long been strained but in travelling together, Jasmine hopes that time away from the everyday reminders will bring them closer together and help them reconcile the past. But just days into their trip, a young girl goes missing from Hampstead Heath and their personal memories come back to haunt them. As Jasmine immerses herself in the world of the Brontes and Jane Austen, making friends with members of the small travelling group, so Della disappears into her own memories and wisdom of her own culture and storytelling.
At its best, After Story is a powerful novel of mothers and daughters, of shared memories and experiences. But sadly, the narrative too frequently slips into academia as the pompous American professor of literature clashes with feminist thought in dismissing Virginia Woolf or Emily Bronte as secondary writers. Jasmine may love her books but Larissa Behrendt lives and breathes academic study and this is reflected in her writing. Too frequently, parts of After Story read like a short paper to be submitted for assessment.