The After Wife by Cass Hunter - book review
But can a ‘humanoid android’ – however sophisticated and knowing it might seem – ever take the place of a flesh-and-blood wife and mother?
Get ready to weep buckets as Cass Hunter’s exploration of humankind’s complex relationship with technology spills over into a haunting and emotional journey that will tug hard on your heartstrings, and leave you questioning the pros and cons of cutting-edge robotics.
Cass Hunter – real name Rosie Fiore – has created a truly original, high-concept novel… a story that delves into psychology and the science of robotics, and imagines the creation of a robot that can be programmed to recognise and empathise with human emotions.
If that sounds far-fetched, then this beautiful novel will make you dwell not only on the possibilities of a future world with sentient robots, but also on the importance of love, family, hope, and just what it means to be human.
‘I have to go forward into a life where Rachel is no longer by my side. And I don’t know how to do that.’
Aidan Sawyer’s life is torn apart when his beloved wife, 42-year-old Dr Rachel Prosper, a high-flying robotics scientist, dies from a brain aneurysm. When Rachel and Aidan fell in love at university, they thought it was forever. She was a brilliant academic and he was her loving and supportive husband.
Now Rachel, a woman who positively crackled with energy, has gone and Aidan must carry on somehow and raise their 15-year-old daughter Chloe alone.
But Rachel knew she could die at any time from the hereditary aneurysm that killed her own mother, and she had been secretly working on one of the most advanced and sophisticated robots the world has ever seen… a gift of love to see Aidan and Chloe through the dark days after her death.
Only one other person knows about iRachel… Rachel’s research partner, Luke Bourne, and it is he who must not just reveal the existence of the robot, but persuade Aidan and Chloe to take it into their home so that it can develop its ‘empathy tools.’
But what is so disconcerting for the bereaved father and daughter is that Rachel had been programming iRachel with a database full of her lifetime of thoughts and memories, enabling the robot to interact and guide them into a future without her.
As iRachel slowly becomes a ‘person’ in her own right, can she help to heal their grief and begin the next chapter in their lives?
Hunter’s story is brimming with raw emotion as Aidan and Chloe struggle to come to terms with their loss, their guilt and their grief, but The After Wife is also funny, witty and acutely observant as iRachel awakens to the sensitivities of the human condition.
Much of the humour lies in iRachel’s detached logic and her interpretations of people’s words and action, but there are moments of intense poignancy as the robot begins to interact and understand that there are restrictions and boundaries which can never be crossed.
The power of love to heal, a cast of beautifully portrayed characters, and the fascinating exploration of technology and humanity which quite unexpectedly finds common ground, help to make this one of 2018’s most captivating reads.
(Trapeze, paperback, £8.99)