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After the Fall by Charity Norman
I was loaned this book by a friend and have to admit had I seen the cover in a shop and read the title I probably would not have bought it. The cover shows a couple of little boys running in the sea at the beach.
The catchline is "What do you do when your family's dream becomes nightmare?"
Also on the front is this line " Will appeal to devotees of Joanna Trollope and Jodi Piccoult... Norman is hot on their heels." Daily Mail
I quite like Jodi Piccoult but find Joanna Trollope a bit bleuh personally so that would not have made me more inclined to buy this.I think this statement is actually quite wrong as this story is nothing like either of those in my view, but more Piccoult that Trollope..
This was apparently a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick and I have enjoyed some of their choices in the past but do not necessarily rush to get each and every one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is apparently Charity Norman's second book, her first was called 'Freeing Grace' and I will be looking for that in the next few weeks. She was born in Uganda and brought up in the UK. She has spent some years travelling and after working as a barrister for years she wanted to spend more time with her children. In 2002 she and her family to moved to New Zealand.
Like the author this family move to New Zealand. Martha married to Kit who has lost his job and rapidly becoming an alcoholic. The move to New Zealand is their chance for a fresh start. Martha has a job offer that gives them the chance. Kit the husband will become the artist he always wanted to be The twins aged five will grow up in a country with wide open spaces and lots of fresh air. The only one not keen is sixteen year old Sacha who doesn't want to leave her boy friend, school friends and rest of the family.
The book starts with a shocking tragedy, a small boy has fallen off a balcony and is being helicoptered to the A&E with his mother. It seems a tragic accident, he is prone to sleep walking but only the mother, Martha knows the truth and she is not telling.
The story then tells of the family 's move and their settling in New Zealand, buying the house of their dreams and so on. The story moves back and forwards chapter by chapter. One chapter moves the story forward in the past while the next in in the hospital with the mother and young boy and what they are going through, the questions and the arrival of various family members etc.
Throughout the novel there is an undertone of mystery and something unpleasant lurking. The problem surfaces and the family deals with it but have they?
This book gripped me from the start. At first I thought we were going to get the story told from the beginning after the first chapter but in actual fact the jumping back and forward worked building the story up from both ends and it isn't until well near the end that we find out what actually happens and what the secret is that Martha is holding on to.
The characters are sympathetic if somewhat naïve at times. I enjoyed the settling in and starting a new life in new Zealand having done that myself in Australia, I had sympathies with all their emotions.
The family goes through the sadness at leaving family behind in England, the excitement of buying a new house, apprehension at starting new job and schools and so on.
I really felt for Martha struggling with trying to please everyone from her sons to her daughter and then trying to save her marriage by giving Kit a fresh start. Living with an alcoholic who is angry is no fun and I take my hate off to her for standing by him. This move however is very hard on Sacha and at sixteen she is at about the worst time to make such a huge life change.
Kit loves the move and thrives on everything, his paintings are great and he starts to sell them. The boys love the horse riding, meet new friends and settle in well. Sacha seems fine initially then becomes very angry and a typical teenager and she is not happy. I did feel for her and felt that Martha was so busy being happy for everyone else that she failed to notice Sacha becoming so changed.
The characters are real, flawed yet human. The New Zealanders seem pretty authentic too considering those we have met and reminded me of my feelings about the Aussies I met when I first emigrated.
The book is at times a bit of a family saga and tat other times quite tense and dark. It grabs you from the start and I finished it in about three nights reading. It was an easy read, well written and with great descriptions of scenes and real human characters with flaws and charms.
This is better than you average chicklit. I would recommend this a great story with ups and downs, real tension and problems that I hope my family never have to go through.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same use name.
It's the middle of the night when five year old Finn falls from the balcony at his home in a remote part of New Zealand. Leaving his twin brother and older sister in the care of a neighbour, his mother Martha stays with him as a helicopter races him to the nearest hospital. But as he is rushed into surgery, she is taken to one side for questioning, with first nursing staff then the police and social workers raising concerns. Was Finn really sleep walking, something he is prone to do? But if so, how did he come to have suspicious bruises on one side of his body, not in keeping with how he landed? And if it wasn't the accident Martha is saying it was, was his mother involved or is she covering for someone?
I was excited to read this book because I have read very few set in New Zealand, and I found this gave an excellent insight into the country through ex-pat eyes, a trait shared by both the characters and the author. The title is misleading, for very little of this book is about what happens after the fall, and almost as soon as Finn is taken to hospital, Martha's mind begins to wander back to their departure from the UK a year ago, and the ups and downs of life in NZ for all members of the family since then.
The story drifts back and forth but most of the action is in the past and runs in smooth chronological order back to the present and what really happened on that night. Like a row of dominoes, there were lots of interconnected events that culminated in Finn's fall, and it only took a small wobble for them all to come crashing down. Martha is torn between doing what is best for her family, and abiding by the law, and every time she is questioned she has an internal struggle to answer the question: how far will you go to protect the ones you love?
This was a very interesting and unexpected book, and while I enjoyed the style of writing there were a few areas I wasn't the biggest fan of. I don't think Martha's mother's spirit added a great deal and this could just as easily have been a generic voice inside her head rather than pinning it to a person. Equally, Sacha's secret was more brutal than I was expecting and came as quite a surprise to me, not because these things don't happen but because I wasn't expecting as such in this story.
There were a few red herrings as well - I thought perhaps the story with their neighbour might be more significant - and there were additional elements that seemed to be thrown in for no real reason, such as who the boys' school teacher was, something revealed but barely explored. Ditto when Sacha's paternity came out, it was a statement and then the point was dropped, and the story wandered off in a different direction.
In the end, my main complaint was that this was a long and busy book where the author tried to tie every last bit together at the end, which I didn't think was required, and which made it seem less real somehow. I really enjoyed reading it because I was kept wondering what the next page would bring, but looking back there are lots of holes I would wish to pick.
It's a very readable book, but I think it tries to do too much and the result is a story that's longer than it needs to be, darker than I expected (surely a child plummeting head first off a balcony is enough) and too focused on the past when I imagine the future could have been quite interesting as well.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
After the Fall is out now in paperback.