Review: Colin McAdam – Fall

FallFall by Colin McAdam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fall needs getting into. At first, the voices of the two main protagonists seem to clash. Credulity is tested. They seem too polarised. Noel and Julius share a room in a boarding school. Noel is the analyst, highly intelligent, divorced from the human condition by his lack of empathy and his tendency to logical reductionism. Julius is the poet. He, too, is intelligent but his intelligence is oriented towards people. He is popular, mischievous, living in the moment, sensual, taking from life what it has to offer without analysis, simply being.

Such a dichotomy seems too convenient at first. With two narrators, unusual in any novel, the voices they present are too divergent with their initial introduction. We do not anticipate such a divergence. We expect a consistent narrator. But McAdam overcomes the impediment of familiarity with the medium by making his characters utterly believable, giving them both a depth in their narration that blurs the dichotomy, giving us something beyond mere polar opposites. Indeed, in their difference in approach we may see some commonality.

This is most clear in the way we never get to see Fallon, the ‘Fall’ who gives her name to the book. She is Julius’s girlfriend, but Noel is no less interested in her. With both Julius and Noel seeing her as little more than a cipher for their own desires, Fall herself remains comparatively anonymous. We see through their eyes her actions, but they do not give us a sense of her personality. Both Julius in his sensuality and Noel in his idealisation give us an image of someone both of which may be correct in identifying an aspect – we know that Fall will have no less complex a persona than Noel and Julius themselves – but which never reveal the person behind those aspects. The holistic Fall never emerges from the page as seen through Noel’s and Julius’s eyes. Each sees what he projects.

Noel is not markedly jealous. Indeed, he has a good relationship with both of them. He simply waits for Fall to realise that she would be better with him than with Julius. For him, the outcome is logical. Inevitable. An intelligent girl will choose an intelligent boy in the end. He waits, and neither Julius nor Fall suspect the outcome he envisages.

In the end Noel forces the issue with, we assume, tragic results.

It’s difficult to do this work justice in a review. There are too many subtleties, too much to consider afterwards. For example, it is clear that from the point of view of the school in which they study, Noel is the ideal pupil. Julius would be seen as the maverick, the troublemaker, and yet the reality is the other way around. It is Noel who needs help, not Julius. As Noel and Julius project their ideals onto Fall and fail to see the individual in the round, so the school projects onto Noel and Julius its own ideals of academic attainment. Does McAdam intend us to think about this mirroring? It’s difficult to say. The strength of this work is that it is sufficiently revealing, sufficiently accurate that the complexity of personality and of life is presented with all its alleyways and darkened corners to explore. It is rare for a writer to be able to present such a level of complexity in his or her characters that ideas and implications may be drawn from the work the author very likely never intended to present.

My only criticism of the work is some of the hopping around timelines and the presence of a few other narrators along the way, both of which tend to complicate the story unnecessarily. However, I am to blame for not giving the work the time and attention it deserved, falling into the trap of seeing an easy read which, for all the complexity of character, Fall largely is. Nonetheless, this is a work worthy of a re-read, and I won’t make that mistake twice. For that, then, though perhaps a flaw, McAdam deserves only to lose a fraction of a star while I get a slap on the wrist.

A work to be taken slowly and thought about long after it’s been read.

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