Friday, August 1, 2014

"Fallout," by Sadie Jones

The English author Sadie Jones’ new novel “Fallout” (Harper, 2014), like her earlier novel “The Uninvited Guests” (about which I posted on 6/26/12), has an air of strangeness, of slight removal from real life. In the case of the earlier novel, this was partly because of an obvious unreality, a sort of magical realism. But in the case of “Fallout,” there are no ghosts, no unbelievable events; there is simply a sense that the events happened far in the past, or in a different land. In fact, the novel is set in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly in London. The main characters – Luke, Paul, Leigh, and Nina – are young people starting off in the theater world: Luke is a writer; Paul is a producer; Nina is an actress; Leigh is both an actress and a theater administrator. The four of them are very close, and have romantic, sexual, friendship, and business connections in various combinations at various times. Some of these relationships are extremely intense, but they sometimes end suddenly, sometimes for explicable and sometimes for rather inexplicable reasons. There are also, beneath-the-surface fluctuations of relationships, subterranean connections, longings, tensions. These four characters are intensely compelling, especially Luke, the son of a vivid but mentally ill mother who has spent most of her life in an asylum. Luke is brilliant, charismatic, attractive, and a strange combination of focused and mercurial. The novel reminds me of an extended balletic sequence featuring four dancers in various scenes and in various combinations. The novel is powerful yet somehow keeps the reader at arms length; it is not clear to me if this is intentional on the part of the author or not. In any case, the novel stitches together what could be clich├ęd theater elements with original and compelling portrayals and plot turns. The reader is kept a little off-center throughout; this is not a novel to sink into with a sigh of comfort (and that’s okay). It is a novel that I believe will stay in my mind for some time, as has Jones’ earlier novel, “The Uninvited Guests.”
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