The Fallout by Rebecca Thornton

Rummaging around on why To Be Read (TBR) shelf last week, I came across The Fallout by Rebecca Thornton. Published around a year ago, the blurb describes this as a “pacy, gossip-fuelled story of one mother’s mistake, and the huge ripple effects on a community weighted with secrets”.

To give you an idea of what it’s about, the story focuses on a group of young mothers, and in particular on three women — Liza, Sarah and Ella — with WhatsApp group conversations helping to move the plot along.

Social media shows up in a lot of novels these days. In this one, I thought Rebecca Thornton used it very effectively to support the story without getting in the way of the flow. I also thought that the real-life conversations between characters were very well done—tightly written and believable.

Getting back to the story, when Liza’s little boy, Jack, has a bad fall at the local health club, the accident results in several different types of fallout:- 

  • For Jack himself, who falls out of the playground after climbing on a post and ends up in hospital with severe neck injuries
  • For Liza who wasn’t watching her son because she was feeding her daughter
  • For Sarah who didn’t check on Jack because she was distracted when she spotted Ella
  • For Ella who found herself caught up in the fallout for reasons that only become clear as the novel progresses.

There’s also fallout for Liza and Sarah’s relationship which starts to break down when Sarah’s guilt becomes obsessive and causes her to make a series of bad decisions. 

For me, Sarah is the most interesting of the three main female characters. I found that my attitude towards her shifted several times as the story unfolded — from finding her sympathetic to feeling frustrated with her and then back again.

If I was to find a fault with The Fallout, it would be that the secrets that emerge are not as dramatic as I expected them to be — but then, isn’t that often the way with gossip? 

Short chapters and a fast pace helped make this an exciting read. I enjoyed it.

[Disclosure: I received an advance proof copy]

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell reviewed by Izzy Reads

Two things drew me to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. First, O’Farrell herself whose earlier fiction and non-fiction stand out in my mind as some of the most enjoyable reads that I have had since I started this blog a few years ago. (See The Hand that First Held Mine, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and I am, I am, I am). 

The second thing is Hamnet’s link to Shakespeare. The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s son who died of plague while still a teenager.

 The older that I get, and the more performances of Shakespeare plays that I see, the more I have come to realise that I like them best when they are performed outdoors without fancy costumes or famous actors but with a cast that brings the universal themes to life so that you scarcely notice  unfamiliar language and instead enjoy the pace, the story, the play on words, the comedy, confusion and slapstick, the use of verse when tragedy looms, the turn on a comma.

There’s a timelessness to these outdoor performances — a sense of connection to audiences that have gone before — a sheer pleasure in witnessing a play performed outdoors on a sunny hillside on a summer evening. And, for me, Maggie O’Farrell captures much of this, creating an atmospheric story in a world closely linked to nature where you can lose yourself for a while and enjoy those universal connections.

While it’s Hamnet that features in the title, it’s really his mother — Agnes — who is the main character. 

Like her mother before her, Agnes is a herbalist who understands how to use plants like valerian, comfrey, chamomile, sage, thyme and lavender to cure or to calm when cure is not possible. Married to Shakespeare, she has three children — a daughter, Susanna, and twins — Judith and Hamnet. 

The twins, like many characters in Shakespeare’s comedies occasionally exchange identities to play tricks on their family but it is tragedy rather than comedy that darkens their door when plague arrives. 

If you are not a fan of Shakespeare, don’t let that put you off Hamnet. You don’t need to know anything about the plays or indeed the man himself to appreciate this novel. It’s just that if you know a little, it may add to your enjoyment. I bought the Kindle edition.

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent – unexpected twists and a satisfying ending

Our Little Cruelties is a character-driven novel about three brothers — Will, Brian and Luke Drumm — and the rivalries of their family life.

The story begins at a funeral. One of the brothers is dead but we don’t find out which one until the end of the novel.

Timelines move back and forth from the brothers’ childhood through into their adult lives. The story unfolds slowly, switching between individual points of view and revealing key events that help us understand how each brother became the man he is.

Different but alike, each life story is both influenced by and impacts the brothers’ wider family, work and social relationships. Individual actions have consequences in this novel, often lasting and terrible.

As in her earlier novels, Unravelling Oliver and Skin Deep, Liz Nugent manages to make us feel sympathy for unlikeable characters in a tightly-woven story with unexpected twists, nicely wrapped up in a satisfying ending.

[Disclosure: Review copy from the publisher, Penguin received via Netgalley.]