Falling by Julie Cohen
|Falling by Julie Cohen|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: An emotional rollercoaster of a read that left me both raw and elated, and wanting to read more.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: July 2016|
|Publisher: Black Swan|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted: The Contemporary Romantic Novel 2017
Here is the story of three women, from three generations within the same family. There is Jo, a forty year old single mother whose first husband died, and whose second husband ran off with their nanny. She is left caring for her older teenage daughter, Lydia, and her two little ones, Oscar and Iris, whilst harbouring a secret that she feels she cannot share with anyone. Her daughter Lydia is the second female character, and as well as the usual teenage angst she is also dealing with grief, still, over her father's death, anger with her mother for her second disastrous marriage, and her own very difficult secret that she is unable to talk to anyone about. Finally there's Honor who is Jo's mother in law, the mother of Jo's first husband, Stephen. Honor has a fall, breaks her hip, and is forced to move in with Jo for a time as she has no one else who can help her. She too is hiding a secret from the world, and as you read the story you begin to wonder if any of these characters actually know who the others are, and if any of them will ever start telling the truth.
It isn't often nowadays that I will read a book more than once. I used to be a hardcore re-reader, to the point that with any series of books (such as Harry Potter) I used to read the entire existing series prior to the release of the next installment, every single time a new book came out! Still, then I had babies and I found that I was lucky if I made it to the end of a book and still knew what on earth the story was about, never mind trying to find the time to read it again. That is why I thought it worth mentioning that with this book I read it, cried, and loved it. I read a few others in between, and then went straight back to pull it off my shelves and read it all over again. I became so attached to these characters that I needed more. I wanted to spend a little more time with each of them, I wanted to re-experience all those turbulent emotions, and so I re-read the story and loved it all over again.
I love reading Julie Cohen's stories. Whatever I might be expecting from the cover or the blurb, I am always surprised. There's always a great deal more to each book than just a basic plot, with layers and details and emotions and thoughtfulness. I often get very emotionally involved with her characters, so that whilst I am reading they start to feel like friends I know. This book was interesting as it had three leading ladies vying for my attentions. Jo is closest in age to me, and with her small children I felt most able to identify with her. She is so very, very nice. It often sounds vaguely like an insult when someone is described as nice, but I personally think that niceness is underrated! Jo tries desperately, all the time, to make everything better for everyone. She is a glass half full, tomorrow's a new day, let's have a cup of tea and some cake to make it all better kind of woman. And yet we see beneath her desperate attempts to be always cheerful. We see her struggling onto a bus with two toddlers, dealing with hard stares from strangers and singing children and a sudden phone call that she has to take...we see her dealing with dog poo dilemmas when the nappy bag is at home, there are no spare clothes in her bag, and the nearest bathroom is a shameful, stinking walk away. My heart went out to Jo over and over again through the story because she expressed so often the small, difficult details that I have experienced in my own life. So, Jo is lovely. She has her secret, which really isn't that terrible, but to Jo, of course, it seems enormous, and she finds herself crippled with fear that anyone will find her out.
Lydia is Jo's teenage daughter, getting ready to sit her GCSEs. We know right from the start what Lydia's secret is, and it's heart-wrenching because as a grown up I can see how easily solved her problems would be if she would just speak to her mum, but of course she can't, because they have a history full of grief and trauma and sadness, and she can't because she is a teenager, and she can't because she is scared. Although I am years away from my own teenage troubles, I still understood Lydia's fears and anxieties, and I cared about her enormously.
Finally there is Honor. I really did not like Honor very much to begin with. She is very prickly and proper and proud, and she's so mean to poor Jo. But as I read more about her, and saw more of her interactions with others throughout the book, and as I began to understand her heart I think she slowly became my favourite character. She is truly dreadful sometimes, and once again her secret would really not be that terrible to reveal, so a lot of the time I was just shouting at the her to please just tell someone what was going on! Honor is an incredibly complex character, and perhaps that's why I ended up loving her the most. I didn't always like her, or her behaviour, but there is one point within the story where she speaks out on Jo's behalf and I wanted to cheer aloud for her being so wonderful!
The story deals with secrets, obviously, but also with the idea of truly knowing someone. All those expectations you have about people, and all the things you imagine to be true, you find that as you read you wonder how much anyone ever truly knows anyone else. It is so easy, in life, to muddle through on a patchwork of lies and pretence, doing what we think is easiest, even when it isn't what is really right. There is a lot about loss and grief, both of losing husbands, sons and fathers, but also of losing relationships generally, and losing aspects of yourself personally. Family is an important theme, obviously, and the idea of what actually makes a family function and thrive, as well as what can destroy a family. And there was a lot about fear, and how it can control, and even destroy your life.
I wouldn't want to spoil the story for you by writing any more about what happens. I would just say that it is, throughout, engaging and funny and absolutely a page-turner. The characters weren't just characters, they were very real people to me, and I cared deeply about what happened to each one of them. I will tell you that there are small twists through the story, slow reveals of things you suspect, and don't suspect, winding up with a wild rollercoaster ending that I can't talk about but that absolutely had me on the edge of my seat and made me cry and shout aloud all in one! It's a beautiful book. See if you can get a babysitter for a couple of days, and devour it all in one go, if you can, and then maybe you'll want to read it all over again like I did!
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