There are some books that are an absolute bugger to write about, simply because you don’t want to ruin a moment you yourself had as a reader for anyone else. In the case of Keith Ridgway’s ‘The Long Falling’ it is a moment where your jaw drops and you have to re-read the page to check what has just happened really has. This happened to me in chapter one, making it really bloody difficult (thank you Keith, tut) to extrapolate on the book too much, which I so want to do, without giving that moment away. I shall try though…
Grace Quinn is a woman lonely and lost, yet actually not alone. First there is her husband, a man who likes to drink so much he killed a local girl in a hit and run. Secondly are the ghosts of her past lives, the one she had before she became Mrs Quinn and the one that she had with her sons; Sean who died, an accident but one she feels very much responsible for partly through her husband’s and the locals responses, and the other who left for Dublin as soon as he could after he had told his mother and father he was gay.
As you get to know Grace and learn of the sorrow at the centre of her life, which is really all encompassing, you don’t feel that things could go much worse for her, but they do. What happens I will not say, as you need to read this book for yourself to find out, yet it means she must go and take some time out from the world with her rather estranged son Martin and the big city life of Dublin. Yet the mother and son bond that was once so tight seems to have become elastic and awkward and there is the fact that both of them are trying to keep their lives rather secret from the other, only projecting the side of themselves that they think the other wants to see.
“Martin had always known something about his mother that nobody else knew. But he could not have said what it was. He was aware only that there remained something unspoken between them. Perhaps it was a simple thing, Common memories. Love. But Martin thought that it was something else. To do with their walking away and coming back. The risk in it. Like a dare. It played in her eyes. It had strength. It had stared out at him, and she had allowed no one else to see it but him. He remembered the strength of it. He looked for it now, but either it had gone, or he had forgotten how to see it.”
Once in the city, and in Martin’s world, initially we see just how much the distance has grown between them. Dublin is a city that is trying to modernise itself whilst in the papers and on everyone’s lips is the case of a 14 year old girl who is being banned from leaving the country to abort a pregnancy caused by rape. In fact one of Martin’s friends, Sean who I thought was a right ‘bod cac’ (look it up), is working on the case as a journalist which in itself becomes a twist in the book. Martin’s gay lifestyle is also completely alien to his mother, even though they take her to a gay pub, not only that but Martin is madly, almost recklessly, missing his lover Henry, a feeling Grace has no idea of. The more we read the more we see they are at odds yet the more we know this relationship and its bonds will be important as the book, plot and indeed characters unravel.
Ridgway’s prose is stunning. He can make the grimiest, and in the case of one of Martin’s less glamorous haunts (what is it with Ridgway and saunas? I must ask him) greyest, of scenes somehow beautiful. The writing can occasionally be repetitive and sometimes a little emphatic yet somehow he makes this seem like the poetry of his prose. He also creates brilliantly vivid and flawed characters that you care about, despite some of their darker traits. You can see why it won both the Prix Femina Etranger and Premier Roman Etranger in France.
“Imagine falling from a great height. Without panic. Imagine taking in the view on the way down, as your body tumbles gently in the air, the only sound being the sound of your progress. Your progress. Imagine that it is progress to fall from a great height. A thing worth doing. Though it is not a thing for doing. You do nothing, you simply allow it to happen. Imagine relaxing into the sudden ground. Imagine the stop.”
If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.
You may now see why I am thrilled I will be talking to Keith Ridgway, along with Ben Marcus, tomorrow night as part of Liverpool’s Literature Festival ‘In Other Words’, more details here – do come. Who else has read ‘The Long Falling’ and what did you make of it? For another, and I think much more eloquent review see John Self’s thoughts here. Have you read any of his other novels, like ‘Hawthorn and Child’, at all?