Set at the time of the first world war, Before the Fall is the debut novel by Juilet West that centres around London's East End and a cast of characters who can't escape tragedy even though they're on the peripherary of war - being at home wasn't necessarily safer than being in the trenches.
I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the river, in the grey air that we breathe. It is a current that runs through all of us. You can’t escape the current; either you swim with it, or you go under…
I was impressed with the idea behind the book - West had found a series of newspaper clippings from the time that told of a man jumping in front of a train, and the story that unravelled in the aftermath. This novel is an attempt to fill in the blanks and create a whole backdrop of characters to set the simple story of the news clippings in context. It's all very skilfully done and it certainly was a page-turner for me, though I knew from the start that the overtones of impending doom weren't going to give me a happy ending. I don't want to give too much away, but the story centres around a love affair that is one of those 'complicated' ones.
I enjoyed the style of writing and the development of the characters, and West certainly knows how to capture a sense of time and place, but it was ultimately a depressing read. I think what I like most about reading stories set in the world wars generally is the hope, the bravery, the not giving up and all of those other British sentiments that make you proud of what your country was able to do when working together. This book very much focuses on the hopelessness side of things, and I have to say that I don't go for those kind of stories generally - I'm personally more interested in triumph over adversity tales.
I will, however, be watching with interest to see what West writes next, as I found her writing very good, and with the right narrative I think I could really enjoy reading more of her work.
Before the Fall is published by Macmillan. I received a copy of the book for review, but as always, views are my own!