Monday, May 26, 2014
hardcover, 416 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Routs
Sadie Jones is a London based novelist who has published The Outcast, Small Wars, and The Uninvited Guests. Her fourth novel, Fallout, is an exploration of the ways in which our pasts can determine our futures--or not. Jones sets her novel in the period from 1968-1975 in the midst of London's theater community. She convincingly creates the world of playwrights, actors, directors and producers, freely mixing real and invented characters.
Luke Kanowski is just thirteen when the novel opens, in 1961. Living with an alcoholic father, Luke is devoted to his fragile mother, who is a resident of a mental institution. Jones depicts a Victorian-era asylum, red-brick, with turrets, where Luke is a familiar visitor who has spent his entire life visiting his mother, coping with her illness. In a pivotal scene, Luke helps his mother sneak away from the hospital for a visit to London, to see an exhibit of French paintings. Although neither character realizes it, his path crosses that day with that of Nina Hollings, an eleven-year-old girl whose mother, Marianne, makes Lady Macbeth look maternal.
In an image from this early section of the book, Nina stands transfixed in front of a painting by Ucello: "St. George and the Dragon." This image of a "long-necked maiden, daintily bound, and the lavishly armoured St. George thrusting his lance through the dragon's eye" holds the key to the urgent and doomed attraction that will develop between Luke and Nina much later in the novel. Luke is inexorably drawn toward unhappy maidens, and Nina is bound by maternal threads to a masochistic type of love.
Luke, who is brilliant but damaged, has a chance meeting with two Londoners in search of a playwright one rainy night in his Northern provincial town. Paul Driscoll and Leigh Radley draw Luke into the London theater life, and the three become roommates and coworkers, starting an experimental theater above a pub. After several years of writing play after play in secret notebooks, Luke has his first play produced, and it is a hit.
The trajectory of artistic struggle, and success is intertwined with the romantic relationships in Fallout. Very early in their friendship, Luke and Leigh kiss romantically, but Luke, an unabashed womanizer, pulls away from the woman he is drawn to because he has no idea what to do with Leigh, and somehow feels undeserving of her. Paul and Leigh end up together, but the romantic tension never quite leaves this triangle, who live together for one happy year.
Luke ends up in a catastrophic relationship with Nina, who has the most devouring, narcissistic stage mother imaginable. The innocent Nina has been placed by her calculating mother on the plate of a producer, Tony, who really prefers boys, but marries Nina in order to mold her into a star.
If this all sounds tragic and depressing, it's really not. Jones creates the most psychologically astute characters I've read, but her characters are living in the midst of a vibrant era and an intoxicating business. It is all really completely delicious.
The characters in Fallout are so beautifully drawn that the novel is a sheer pleasure to read. I loved the character of Luke; Jones is especially good on Luke's urgent drive to write and write and write. I felt enormous sympathy for almost all of the characters (Marianne and Tony are deliciously despicable), and there was never one wrong note in the writing. Fallout had me completely entranced. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, and for those interested in the theater.