Like Robert Altman's films Nashville and Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson's less impressive Magnolia, this novel is structured around an event which affects a large number of people, all of whom are connected to each other, sometimes without realizing it. This sort of story tends to be a social critique of the ways in which society is messed up, while the structure itself makes the point that we are all connected (and ought to behave with that in mind.)

I particularly enjoy this sort of story. It's not often done, probably because it requires a great deal of technical skill to make it not seem like a great sprawling mess and conversely, can easily seem overly schematic. Done well, it has a great deal of inherent power and truth.

The event in Girls Fall Down is a sort of social epidemic. A year after 9/11, a teenage girl mentions that she smells roses, then collapses in a Toronto subway. Another girl suggests that she's been poisoned. Minutes later, three other people have collapsed. In the months that follow, people begin smelling roses and falling down across Toronto.

Alex, a diabetic photographer whose illness has begun to threaten his sight, is present when the first girl falls down. This leads to him meeting Susie, an old flame whom he hasn't seen in ten years. Susie is studying relationship networks among homeless people - and not, it turns out, solely for the cause of sociology, or even solely to get her degree.

The networks of relationships spread out as the epidemic spreads and, like the strange epidemic itself, all contain mysteries of some sort or another. What is the epidemic? Why did the first girl fall down? What happened between Susie and Alex years ago? The solutions are satisfyingly complex and non-reductionist, especially the one involving the girl who started it all.

A beautifully written and constructed novel, serious but with the occasional flash of humor, and genuinely thought-provoking. Unlike Helwig's other two novels, Between Mountains and Where She Was Standing, I didn't actually like the main characters, though I did think they were interesting. But the city of Toronto, which is a main character itself, is to fall in love with.

View on Amazon: Girls Fall Down
Like Robert Altman's films Nashville and Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson's less impressive Magnolia, this novel is structured around an event which affects a large number of people, all of whom are connected to each other, sometimes without realizing it. This sort of story tends to be a social critique of the ways in which society is messed up, while the structure itself makes the point that we are all connected (and ought to behave with that in mind.)

I particularly enjoy this sort of story. It's not often done, probably because it requires a great deal of technical skill to make it not seem like a great sprawling mess and conversely, can easily seem overly schematic. Done well, it has a great deal of inherent power and truth.

The event in Girls Fall Down is a sort of social epidemic. A year after 9/11, a teenage girl mentions that she smells roses, then collapses in a Toronto subway. Another girl suggests that she's been poisoned. Minutes later, three other people have collapsed. In the months that follow, people begin smelling roses and falling down across Toronto.

Alex, a diabetic photographer whose illness has begun to threaten his sight, is present when the first girl falls down. This leads to him meeting Susie, an old flame whom he hasn't seen in ten years. Susie is studying relationship networks among homeless people - and not, it turns out, solely for the cause of sociology, or even solely to get her degree.

The networks of relationships spread out as the epidemic spreads and, like the strange epidemic itself, all contain mysteries of some sort or another. What is the epidemic? Why did the first girl fall down? What happened between Susie and Alex years ago? The solutions are satisfyingly complex and non-reductionist, especially the one involving the girl who started it all.

A beautifully written and constructed novel, serious but with the occasional flash of humor, and genuinely thought-provoking. Unlike Helwig's other two novels, Between Mountains and Where She was Standing, I didn't actually like the main characters, though I did think they were interesting. But the city of Toronto, which is a main character itself, is to fall in love with.
This intricate novel about how the disappearance of a Canadian photographer in East Timor connects people across continents is an unconventional love story, an unusual murder mystery, a suspense novel, a political novel, a character study, and probably more things I didn't think of, and yet it reads as a perfectly integrated whole.

It's one of the best novels I've read all year, and it's sheer chance plus lack of marketing that it didn't become one of those internationally bestselling literary novels that read like thrillers, like Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. I opened it to the first page just to get a sense of the style, and twenty minutes later, still leaning against my bookshelf, I gave up on my plans for the rest of the day and spent the next few hours on the sofa with it.

I don't want to reveal too much of the plot, since it begins taking unexpected turns somewhere around page thirty, but it begins with Rachel, a burned-out human rights worker in London, getting yet another call about a person who has disappeared overseas. While she begins tracking down information, the eccentric doctor with whom she has a fraught relationship is dealing with people disappearing on the streets of London: not being swept into mass graves or secret prisons, but falling through the cracks of society because nobody cares, or nobody cares enough, or because one person's caring isn't enough.

I also don't want the book to sound preachy or depressing, because it isn't: some of the events are horrifying and tragic, but I was left with a sense of profound and earned hope, and the uplift that comes from reading a really good story. I also wanted to be a better person, or at least more socially committed.

The characters are vivid, the approach to politics is sophisticated, and there's an unexpected amount of rather sideways, deadpan humor. The climax is more startling and powerful than I had expected, having been braced for a let-down just because the build-up was so good. The only misstep I found was that the photographer's boyfriend never came alive for me as a character, and his hobby struck me as more poetic than likely. Highly recommended.

[livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink has a much better review here.

ETA: Order via amazon.ca
This intricate novel about how the disappearance of a Canadian photographer in East Timor connects people across continents is an unconventional love story, an unusual murder mystery, a suspense novel, a political novel, a character study, and probably more things I didn't think of, and yet it reads as a perfectly integrated whole.

It's one of the best novels I've read all year, and it's sheer chance plus lack of marketing that it didn't become one of those internationally bestselling literary novels that read like thrillers, like Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. I opened it to the first page just to get a sense of the style, and twenty minutes later, still leaning against my bookshelf, I gave up on my plans for the rest of the day and spent the next few hours on the sofa with it.

I don't want to reveal too much of the plot, since it begins taking unexpected turns somewhere around page thirty, but it begins with Rachel, a burned-out human rights worker in London, getting yet another call about a person who has disappeared overseas. While she begins tracking down information, the eccentric doctor with whom she has a fraught relationship is dealing with people disappearing on the streets of London: not being swept into mass graves or secret prisons, but falling through the cracks of society because nobody cares, or nobody cares enough, or because one person's caring isn't enough.

I also don't want the book to sound preachy or depressing, because it isn't: some of the events are horrifying and tragic, but I was left with a sense of profound and earned hope, and the uplift that comes from reading a really good story. I also wanted to be a better person, or at least more socially committed.

The characters are vivid, the approach to politics is sophisticated, and there's an unexpected amount of rather sideways, deadpan humor. The climax is more startling and powerful than I had expected, having been braced for a let-down just because the build-up was so good. The only misstep I found was that the photographer's boyfriend never came alive for me as a character, and his hobby struck me as more poetic than likely. Highly recommended.

[livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink has a much better review here.

ETA: Order via amazon.ca
.

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags