After (Nikki Gemmell, Fourth Estate)
Freedom is the right to choose the way we live, but what about the way we die? Euthanasia is a difficult subject and one that creates an emotional and political divide. Nikki Gemmell’s memoir After explores this topic in a highly personal way. Suffering crippling chronic pain and struggling with her fading independence, Gemmell’s elderly mother Elayn chose to end her own life. After is a raw account of a daughter struggling to comprehend her mother’s choice and piece together the events that led her to this final decision—was it despair or empowerment? Part catharsis and part biography, Gemmell pours guilt and anger onto the page as she tries to provide a narrative to her mother’s death while also conveying a portrait of who her mother was, the good and the bad. Gemmell’s poetic language and short, fragmented sentences capture the emotional turmoil, and the chapters are interwoven with journal entries and pictures from different periods of Nikki and Elayn’s life, shedding light on the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. A bold work of nonfiction, After is timely and will appeal to readers who enjoy memoirs and exploring social issues. Like Elspeth Muir’s Wasted, this is a work that will raise questions and start conversations.
Maria H Alessandrino is a Perth-based writer and freelance reviewer