Landfall by Helen Gordon

From TheBookbag
Jump to: navigation, search

Landfall by Helen Gordon

Buy Landfall by Helen Gordon at or

Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An interesting interpretation on the "can't go home" theme with a twist in the tale that some reviewers clearly found more satisfying than I did. An intriguing read all the same.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 215 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Fig Tree (Penguin)
ISBN: 978-1905490820

Share on: Delicious Digg Facebook Reddit Stumbleupon Follow us on Twitter

Most people at one time or another of their lives get a feeling that they must kill themselves; as a rule they get over it in a day or two (How Girls Can Build Up The Empire: the handbook for Girl Guides 1912)

Excerpts from the handbook precede each section of Landfall and it is hard to know what to make of them – other than to take on board that women are not, by any stretch, the weaker sex, just the more emotional one They can even…shoot tigers, if they can keep cool.

Interesting though the quotes are, I'm not sure that I ever managed to tie them other than tangentially to the story. This doesn't matter, because there were bits of the story that I never managed to tie other than tangentially to the story, and the much-touted destabilizing ending (let's get it out of the way at the beginning) was not what I wanted, and didn't quite fit. I'd have been happier with something a bit more ambiguous, which is saying something because I hate unresolved plot-lines.

And none of that matters, because Landfall is still such a surprising and enjoyable read.

Alice sees her sister everywhere: on planes, on the street, at parties. Of course, she also doesn't. Her sister died a long time ago. They were as unlike as sisters can be, and Alice always felt, both before and afterwards, that Janey was the favoured child. The blond beauty who could do no wrong. And she wasn't really up to taking her place when that was what her parents needed.

Life moved on.

Now Alice sees her sister in the mirror… and continues to talk to her.

Now Alice is a writer on a fashionable London arts magazine. As a reviewer she is well-respected outside the immediate environment, what she says carries some sway. She gets lots of outside commissions. But when the magazine suspends, she returns to her childhood home to house-sit for parents on an extended holiday. People still call her up, offer her work, but she's becoming increasingly detached from her London life, sinking into older values – which may or may not be of any relevance now.

Then she finds herself not only house-sitting, but also baby-sitting (if that's an appropriate word when you find yourself with a stroppy American teenager to look after for a few months).

Landfall is one of those books in which very little happens until the final frenetic few chapters when everything spirals out of control. Most of what comes before is extended scene setting and character development. In this case it's also an extended treatise on the difference between life in the city and life in the provinces: the one being fixated on money and excitement and friends who don't necessarily have the faintest idea who you really are and lovers who aren't sure about what you have together, or whether it is what they or you want; the other (if you've decanted to the former first) being about making choices and standing by them, foregoing adventure and flexibility for security, but still perhaps ultimately about relationships with people who maybe don't know you too well and understand you even less.

An old family friend (and former Guide Leader) provides the excuse for visits to the local Care Home, a few snipes at our lack of respect for our elders – or lack of time and energy to care for them the way we might – and a somewhat caricature character assassination on the system approach to dementia which I'm afraid is more than a tad out of date, but does provide the opportunity for some whimsical humour and old fashioned wisdom (none the less wise for its old fashion).

Just to complete the picture there are old boyfriends, an unwanted dog and the creepy boy next door.

What lifts Landfall above your average chick-lit is firstly Gordon's off-beat, somewhat dark humour, often deployed in pointless asides: like the fact that all the legislation hasn't made kids playgrounds safer they just find more dangerous things to do on safer equipment or a bath being sprinkled with salts turning the water strongly pink like photographs he'd seen of the sea around the Faroe islands during the whaling season.

Secondly, when the action does start to spiral, it continues to do so rather slowly, without a jarring shift of pace, just a heightening of menace, and it does so in the most unexpected direction.

A very light read, with a dark undertow and characters that sustain curiosity if not quite managing to generate empathy.

I couldn't go as far as to say Put this on your Christmas list now! – but I would say Note the author's name. It's a decent debut, one that suggests that she could go in several different directions with the skill to deliver more and better.

For another feel-good book with a touch of drama with a woman lead from much the same age/place try The Very Picture Of You by Isabel Wolff

Buy Landfall by Helen Gordon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Landfall by Helen Gordon at

Buy Landfall by Helen Gordon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Landfall by Helen Gordon at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.