Sunday, 16 October 2016

Fallen by Lia Mills

288 Pages
Book Club Read
Paperback / Own / Borrow Box

The blurb

Spring, 1915. Katie Crilly gets the news she dreaded: her beloved twin brother, Liam, has been killed on the Western Front.

A year later, when her home city of Dublin is suddenly engulfed by the violence of the Easter Rising, Katie finds herself torn by conflicting emotions and loyalties. Taking refuge in the home of a friend, she meets Hubie Wilson, a friend of Liam's from the Front. There unfolds a remarkable encounter between two young people, both wounded and both trying to imagine a new life.

My thoughts

This book was selected as the 2016 ‘One City One Book’ title for both Dublin and Belfast.

I’m feeling very ambivalent about this book. While there were parts of this story I loved and admired, more if it left me either indifferent or dissatisfied.

For me there was too much telling and nowhere near enough showing in this story. I know how devastating WW I was and how confusing the situation in Dublin during the Easter Rising must have been but that is as a result of prior knowledge, not because I experienced those nightmares while reading this book. More than that, even Katie’s story remained distant for me, as if I was observing her story through a filter. I had to imagine her feelings rather than experience them.

The first part of the book especially didn’t do a lot for me. It was easy enough to read but I didn’t connect with either Katie or her story. In fact, it was almost as if I was reading an article rather than a novel. Soon after the second part of the story (and the Easter Rising) starts, the story became more engaging. As Katie connects with Hubie and finds herself caught up in the Rising in ways she couldn’t have imagined, I, at last, got an idea of the person she really was. Then again, I think the same was true for Katie herself, so I’m fairly sure I wasn’t meant to really see her or connect with her earlier on in the story; how can you know someone who doesn’t know themselves? As such the difference between the two parts in this book was a clever and well executed plot device—just not one I’m overly fond of since I prefer to connect with my characters early on in a story.

The letters Liam wrote to Katie before he died really touched me, though. The raw emotion and the combination of despair and resignation were so vivid they made my stomach churn. And the developing bond between Katie and Hubie sprung of the page too. Thrown together under extreme circumstances, and with Hubie relatively fresh back from the Western Front they bounce off each other, are brutally honest and, as a result, becoming very close in record time and with, for those days especially, shocking levels of intimacy. Those parts of the story felt real to me.

And another thing I don’t particularly like is a story without a proper ending. Maybe it’s the result of my love for romance and crime novels; those come with either a happy ever after or a resolution of the mystery. This book ended mid everything. The Easter Rising is still going on, be it nearing its end, and Katie doesn’t decide what to do next. If that is what makes a story literature, I can do without it. As much as I like to occasionally indulge in what-if scenarios taking place after a story ends, even for those I need a proper ending to embroider on from.

All in all this was a mixed reading experience for me. This book was easy to read; maybe too easy considering all the subjects it deals with. While most of it left me indifferent, some parts touched me deeply. Right now the best I can say for this book is that I suspect it will make for a good discussion when my bookclub meets next. I’d rate this book 3.5 stars but for once I’m rounding it down rather than up; I just don’t think it is a 4.

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