Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Before the Fall - Juliet West

'How can I be sorry when I feel like this, as if my life has started up brand new, sharp and colourful, a swirl of terror and bliss like I'm lost in a fairground...'

Before the Fall is a very well-crafted and compelling debut novel set in London during World War One. It tells of Hannah Loxwood, a mother of two young children, her husband away fighting, who has been forced to move in with her sister and brother-in-law, with her sister  Jen, who she feels has never really liked her, minding the children whilst Hannah works in a café, striving for a bit of freedom. Her father is very unwell and the family is struggling. She has a good friend in wonderful Dora, who works at the munitions factory. 

Daniel Blake works as a ship repairer and is exempted from the war, and is one of the customers who come into the café. An intelligent, sensitive soul, I found him easy to like and warm to, and I was interested to read about his background, and his love of books. There is a mutual, dangerous attraction between Daniel and Hannah. 

I was drawn into the story and wondered, how will things play out, how will it end? The story grabbed me from the beginning and is well-paced throughout, with a strong sense of place and time being evoked. The characters felt true and of their time to me. I loved the mentions of, and connections with, Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure. I also thought Hannah's feelings about crossing the real bridge to get around where she lived mirrored well the bridge she had to cross to change her life:

'It's as if I'm caught in the centre of an unending bridge. On one side lies my old life; on the other side...What?'

Events at the munitions factory, as well as bombs falling on the city, evoke the tragedy and fear of those back at home during the war.

I was sad that Hannah hadn't felt for her husband what she felt for Daniel, and also sad that he was away fighting, but I also understood that sometimes these chances, these intense, intimate connections felt for someone only come once, and at the wrong time, meaning awful decisions must be made between duty and desire, with people getting hurt whichever path is taken. The author writes in a lovely style, both literary and very readable. The ending makes for surprising and heartbreaking reading. 

Thanks to amazon vine for a review copy of this novel. 

Published by Mantle


  1. Great review of this one.

    I really like what you wrote in the last paragraph. It kind of gets at what makes literature great and what sometimes makes life difficult.

  2. Ooooh Lindsay, normally this is the kind of book I would recommend to my sister but I think I would like this one too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, think I will keep and eye out for it.



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