After You’ve Gone is a quiet book from the very popular Joan Lingard. Although she is, perhaps, better known as a children’s writer, this is Joan Lingard’s 16th adult novel and like several of her previous successes, it is staged in Edinburgh.
Life during the 1920s was simple and straightforward â€“ in Tollcross society, prior to the creation of the welfare state, there were few distractions. A woman’s role was centred on her home and family and could be extremely mundane. But in turn, family members looked after each other and the community was supportive.
After You’ve Gone sees Willa, a young girl who married a sailor, living with a baby in her mother in law’s one bedroom flat, while her hardly known husband goes off round the world on a British Special Service Squadron tour of duty.
The story unfolds through his frequent letters, which tell of exotic places and excesses of hospitality including dances at which Tommy excels. We are left in little doubt that Tommy will be unfaithful to his wife, yet she is expected to be faithful to him. Willa takes refuge in books and makes frequent trips to the library, where she meets a young man with whom she falls in love. As we only meet Tommy through his letters and the comments made by his mother and aunt, it is Richard, the book lover, with whom we sympathise.
Will she run away with her lover before Tommy returns or not? Whether you can guess the end or not is unimportant. The magic of this evocative book lies in the warmth and humour of these characters, all of whom is just trying to do what seems right, charmingly depicted through Joan Lingard’s clear, simple style, drawn from her writing for children.
Without much of an education, without television, the uncomplicated choices of life in Tollcross are less frustrating than they would be today, but still present their own problems as rigid morals are being challenged by the suffragette movement and the dawning of an age when women can begin to expect to make something more of their lives. Living with one’s mother-in-law was not uncommon and navy wives everywhere will recognise the sense of duty that bound them to their lot and to the almost exclusive company of other women.
Says Joan, “My father, who was in the Royal Navy, went on a year-long, round-the-world cruise with the British Fleet in 1924 and kept a diary, which gave me the base for the book”. (Whether her own mother was ever tempted, she doesn’t disclose!) In a way, this is the story of a woman married to an incompatible husband, who meets a man who she believes could make her happy but this simple plot in its simple setting, is amazingly highly charged.