Fallout by Sadie Jones

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Fallout by Sadie Jones

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A multi-pointed tale of mis-cast love in the heady arena of London theatre in the 1970s. Sharp with the feel of the times, and accurate in its humanity.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 405 Date: May 2014
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 9780701188504

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Have you ever been in love? Truly, madly, deeply (as the cliché has it) in love? Sincerely, selfishly, selflessly, in love?

With the wrong person?

If you haven't then you'll find Fallout an exploration of how it happens, and how we deal with it, or not.

If you have, then you might find this one of those books that hits so close to home, that at times you just have to stop reading and wander through the memories it stirs up and think about trying to be like the character who closed the place inside herself where he had lived and waited for it to scar over and be gone.

It isn't a tear-wrenching tale, not even a heart-stopping one, unless you've been there and done (some of) that… but it is warm with humanity and reality, a clear grasp on time and place. One assumes the theatrical milieu is equally as accurately rendered. I've never been party to any of that, so can't speak to the angle. It feels real enough: exaggerated to the point of poetic licence limits, maybe, but not implausible.

Luke grows up in a totally broken family. His mother is in an asylum and she's never coming out. His father sits at home, guilty and incompetent and drinking. There's love mixed in there somewhere, he's sure. Even if it's only his for his mother.

Nina grows up with her aunt who loves her dearly but refuses to try to compete with the glamour of her absent mother, a now-ageing, sometime, wannabe actress. Nina strives to touch her mother, to be loved, but Marianne sees only a second chance to have the life she dreamed away when she had her daughter.

Their paths cross in unknowing, but they won't meet until a decade or so later. By then Luke has fled to London on a whim, with two chance-met strangers who will become his deepest friends: Paul and Leigh.

He is struggling to write.

What he is trying to write, he is not so sure. His friends are in the theatre though – it's the early 1970s that golden age, when starting your own theatre from scratch in the back room of a pub or a decrepit Warehouse didn't seem like such an unrealistic thing to do, that dark age when the miners struck and the lights (frequently, literally) went out, that exciting age, when society really was trying to change.

The fading optimism of the age is one of things that lurks around the background of the story. The flower-power lingered on in the dresses and the joints, but in the hearts and minds anger was starting to settle in and the politics were beginning to take a sharper, more strident, tone. Things still 'happened'. People were still getting on and doing – sometimes with public money, sometimes with old money, sometimes with money that they scraped and saved and grafted for themselves, but there's also that feeling that the brave new dawn didn't happen, and that hope is already seguing into rage.

The darker sides of freedom are also making themselves felt behind closed doors.

And people are still people. They still hurt. In both senses of that expression.

They still seek to control.

Luke wanders through this world like an innocent. Bright-eyed and honest. If he wasn't so callous with his early sexual encounters, you might almost call him pure. But then – Jones seems to ask – who ever said that purity was kind?

So finding himself in this world, Luke turns his words into a play.

Meanwhile Nina has succumbed to her mother's dreams in too many ways. She's an actress, but a fragile one… the absolute counterpoint to the organised, fiery-tempered Leigh.

And then, finally, there's Tony. Tony Moore, Marianne's latest flame. He's a producer. He's casting. she says to explain why Nina should meet him.

So the stage is set for an old-fashioned tale of unrequited love and untrammelled passion and fear and loathing and betrayal and steadfastness and honesty and lies. Nothing so simple as a triangle, though that is where it starts. Then other points are added and the links are stretched and knotted and broken.

Jones' writing is sharp and to the point. She has an ear for rhythm and eye for pathos holding his father in a firm embrace, as if he could transfer his strength to him, and the fat red tinsel shone, looped against the neglected wall. Above all she has a feeling for people. Her dialogue is real with nonsense, and unspoken conversation. She repeats the Christmas joys and the Christmas duties played over in families rowdy with love and those silent with remorse. Or is it the other way around?

I am, just, too young to remember how it really was out in the world in the early seventies, but the pages are littered with the names of the time, and I remember the excitement of wanting to be old enough to be out there and part of it. By the time I was, some 5 or 6 years later, that optimism and poetry had already been lost and the dark side was winning. It isn't the focus of Fallout but the seeds of everything that happened next can be found hidden in the characters that stroll through these pages.

For all that it doesn't read like a political book. It reads like a book about love and friendship and the need for something more, or less, than either. And how we don't always know the difference, even in ourselves.

Paper Houses by Michele Roberts might give you an insight into what it was really like to be a writer back then.

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Buy Fallout by Sadie Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fallout by Sadie Jones at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Fallout by Sadie Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fallout by Sadie Jones at Amazon.com.


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