November 1, 2009

Fall - Colin McAdam

This was book 4/5 of my Giller read-athon, and not my favourite so far. Actually, I came away from it with mixed feelings (more below).

A quick plot summary. It is essentially a love-triangle set at a posh boarding school in Ottawa, in what I am assuming is pretty close to the present day. Noel (son of the Canadian ambassador to Australia) and Julius (son of the American ambassador to Canada) are roommates in their final year of school. Noel and Julius have a very complicated friendship, and not the least of the complications is Julius' girlfriend, Fall, whom Noel is also in love with. Things come to a head when Fall disappears part way through the year. I couldn't really relate with the characters or the setting, as I have never been a rich kid at boarding school; but I found the glimpse into diplomatic life interesting. I once had dinner with a British diplomat in Tanzania, and oh boy, is it a different way of life.

What I liked about the book. The character development for one thing. The chapters are told alternating between Noel and Julius, and there is a real distinction in style between the two of them. Noel is described as a sociopath, and really, he is almost a psychopath. He initially comes across as very articulate and sympathetic; however as time goes by, he becomes more and more creepy. The casual mention of cutting off the cat's tail because he didn't like his birthday present really upset me. He takes very strong dislikes to some classmates for the most random of reasons. I can just see him becoming a serial killer in the future. While Julius is a typical teenage boy, with his entire life focus centered between his legs (or at least, not having been a teenage boy, that is what I assume). And by alternating chapters between the two boys, you get to see each one as he sees himself, but also as others see him. I would have loved to have had some chapters told from the point of view of Fall as well. The book took a bit of time to get into, but once I got into it, it was an easy read.

It took me until the end of the book to realise that the boys were telling the story along a different time line. Noel is narrating events from 12 years in the future, and he tells the story beginning a year earlier, and ending some months after Fall's disappearance. Julius is telling things in the present tense, as they happen, from the beginning of term until the morning of Fall's disappearance.

What I didn't like about the book. There are a few random chapters thrown in as told by William, Julius' father's chauffeur (again, from the vantage point of 12 years in the future). These seem to have no bearing on the story. Also, the author seems very fond of the verb "to say". He said, I said, I say, she says... Some better editing needed, perhaps? Once I noticed this (in the first chapter), it seemed to be written in neon lights every time the verb appeared. As well, the ending seemed to be very abrupt and left too many loose ends for my liking.

So my conclusion - a very mixed review. I would almost like to see the same book written by the same author, but with 10 more years of writing experience under his belt.

One more Giller nominee left to go, and just over a week until the award is announced.

This book was read for The Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.


Wanda said...

I thought this one sounded like a great read. Though the lack of puctuation is sure to confuse me, I still think I'd like to give it a go ... thanks for the warning!

Kate said...

Definitely worth reading.