Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: After the Fall

By Becky Gulc

When the quote used on the front cover states that the book you’ve picked up will appeal to fans of Joanna Trollope and Jodi Picoult, it’s a book that is likely to appeal to a wide audience and have high expectations bestowed upon it! I was delighted to be sent Charity Norman's second novel, After the Fall, to review. Here is the synopsis:

What do you do when your family's dream becomes a nightmare? Combining the skill of Jodi Picoult with the warmth of Anita Shreve, Charity Norman explores - with heart-thumping tension - a fresh start which goes very badly wrong.

In the quiet of a New Zealand winter's night, a rescue helicopter is sent to airlift a five-year-old boy with severe internal injuries. He's fallen from the upstairs veranda of an isolated farmhouse, and his condition is critical. At first, Finn's fall looks like a horrible accident; after all, he's prone to sleepwalking. Only his frantic mother, Martha McNamara, knows how it happened. And she isn't telling. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

Tragedy isn't what the McNamara family expected when they moved to New Zealand. For Martha, it was an escape. For her artist husband Kit, it was a dream. For their small twin boys, it was an adventure. For 16 year-old Sacha, it was the start of a nightmare.

They end up on the isolated east coast of the North Island, seemingly in the middle of a New Zealand tourism campaign. But their peaceful idyll is soon shattered as the choices Sacha makes lead the family down a path which threatens to destroy them all.

Martha finds herself facing a series of impossible decisions, each with devastating consequences for her family. (Synopsis courtesy of

The beginning of the book is set in the present day, immediately following the incident with Finn. The tension is immediately set, will he survive, if he does will he be the same Finn? And integral to the plot – how did Finn come to fall in the first place? As the reader we know Martha (whose viewpoint we follow throughout) is holding back the truth, as the reader we are kept guessing as to what that truth is, and how it can be possible for any of these seemingly loving family members to have been involved.

I did find that it took me a while to get into this book, although once we started going back into the family’s life in the UK, and their first months in New Zealand, I started to thoroughly enjoy it. For me after the first 50 (or so) pages the narrative starts to work really well. It was only then that I started to feel for any of the characters and overcome the initial frustration that the story was only being told from Martha’s viewpoint, which felt very limited. Thankfully this worked for me throughout the book as a whole. I thought the pace of the book also worked well, with increased anticipation as the story progressed.

I enjoyed the book for its flawed characters, especially Martha, the way she tries so hard to protect her family unit but is ultimately unable to please everyone and maybe doesn’t always do the right thing. It was refreshing to read. Sacha is a great and fully developed character who I think will stay with me for a long time; I felt her torment through her Mum’s story. Sacha’s paternity is in question within the book, my only real niggle would be that this part of the story wasn’t completely resolved for the reader when the story concludes, but that was perhaps intentional, for readers to be left with certain feelings towards characters, be this compassion or bewilderment.

One of my favourite aspects of this book was the sense of place and community – I’ve never been to New Zealand but pictured the house and area so vividly in my head thanks to Charity’s description that I almost felt like I was watching a film rather than reading a book. It was this sense of place that made the book quite dark at pertinent moments, you’re never quite sure what the book is going to reveal or how so you’re kept guessing.

If you fancy reading a book that’s a little dark and mysterious and covers some serious topics in the context of family life I would definitely recommend this book. I think this will be a book that sticks in my mind for a long time to come.

Thank you to Sam Redman at Allen & Unwin for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

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