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Week 2: The Shock of the Fall vs The Choice

Pitting Susan Lewis against Nathan Filer is like making Tweetie bird fight Muhammad Ali and I just don’t have it in me. Well, I do but I’ll do my best to keep as bloodless as possible.

filer_nathan_shock_of_the_Fall_140225a vs susan lewis_the choice

The Shock of the Fall describes the life of a boy from Bristol dealing with his grief at the death of his brother and experience of mental health care services for schizophrenia. The Choice is about a young girl (21, not 19 as the blurb says) who falls pregnant, falls out with her parents and then is confronted by a choice no parent should have to make.

Whereas Filer’s first book is sparse and clear, Lewis’s writing is filled with adjectives, adverbs and every possible type of description she could find.

There are mischievous eyes, eyes full of mischief and eyes of grey lead. Hearts surge, worried faces light up, voices soften with tenderness, or are husky with pride. Cliches fill the pages, serving no purpose other than to provide fodder for those who don’t have the time to turn on their television at midday and catch another made-for-TV-melodrama.

We don’t even find out what The Choice is until about 300 pages in to a 500 page novel and then every possible plot combination gets thrown in for good measure.

In direct contrast, Filer shows and never tells. As the writer he doesn’t presume anything about our understanding. Every word in the Shock of the Fall is direct and helps the story. He is a storyteller because he has a story to tell and nothing more. Lewis’s 26th* novel is an example of pulp publication where words are put in one after the other and spat out to people who just want to stay distracted for a few hours and aren’t too fussed about engaging and growing with their characters.

One thing Lewis does do well, however, is write about Bristol. It doesn’t matter whether the story requires it, and it seldom does, but if you read the Choice, you’ll find yourself finding out all about Brunel, Corn Street, Broadmead, the Banana bridge, the ss Great Britain, Southville, the Tobacco Factory and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. All are mentioned quite familiarly by the Bristol writer and are well written. They add nothing to the story, however. Lewis could just as easily have set her story somewhere else and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The Shock of the Fall is not inherently Bristolian but unlike Lewis, Filer touches on location only where he has to. The occasional mention of Kingsdown in passing doesn’t have to mean much but when his protagonist talks to a homeless man on the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft (not Cheltenham Road as he writes) we Bristolians, know exactly what he’s talking about and why it’s easy to make that mistake. The area adds to the story, to the characters, it needs no further explanation.

One of the most poignant scenes takes a Bristolian landmark and misses it. The protagonist Matthew Homes’ mother, tells him of how she had tried to find the Clifton Suspension Bridge when she was younger and in despair about what to do wanted to jump off it but ended up circling around Clifton instead. Bristol is integrated into the story, not an aside, not a random description. Filer does it beautifully. The Shock of the Fall won Best First Novel and Book of the Year at the 2013 Costa Book Awards.

The winner this week, Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, was never in doubt but it’s interesting to see that even though Lewis wrote pages and pages about Bristol, the snippets which Filer uses add more to a Bristolian sense of his work than constant references used as filler.

Read-a-long: Bolaño’s 2666: week 2

This is week 2 of the 2666 read-a-long. See Leeswammes blog for the central discussion points for this section.

Pages 80-159 (79 pages)

The second part of meeting the critics seems to continue with the theme of introducing the characters and helps set the scene for whatever horrors come next.

The story tells about the last vestiges of normality and it feels like Bolaño is placing the characters in their final positions like chess pieces ready to do battle. Norton has the most action with a central part in the story which references the abyss.

My favourite scene is the dream where Norton is looking at the reflection of herself in the mirrors in the hotel room. It’s her, but dead. A literal death or a reference to a transition? The apocalypse that’s coming perhaps?

I noticed that the characters are referred to by their surnames except when in dialogue or thought thinks of them. Then they are more intimately referenced by their first names (116). Even though Norton seems to be the ‘whore’ as mentioned in the first part, it is the men who are crass and turn quickly to prostitutes.

Espinoza turns an ordinary girl into a prostitute – see the lingerie he bought for her. A thong and garters and black tights and a black teddy and black spike heeled shoes. Then there’s the crude way the author refers to sex in those scenes (154).

The gentle Morini and Norton finally find love which we discover in a letter interspersed throughout the derelict end of the world in Santa Teresa. This makes the love sentiment even more poignant for the abandoned two critics. Pelletier spends his time reading Archimboldi, who writes about pain delicately (143), and drinking. Espinoza seduces a young local girl only to turn her into a cheap sex object in the back of his car and his hotel room.

Archimboldi is meant to have appeared in the town they all visit as perhaps trying to escape his destiny. Amalfitano can see what’s coming up and tells them of exile “as a natural movement, something that, in its way, helps to abolish fate, or what is generally thought of as fate.” (117)

p.151
Edwin Johns, the painter who cut off his arm for money is one of the first, we are told about, who fell into the abyss. He is fascinating and his actions rather chilling. When I first read about his mutilation I thought it might be due to some profound thought such as a part of him as actual self expression. Instead he tells Morini that it was about, the basest of desires, money. This seems so hollow and empty to me and he is one of the first lost to the abyss because he has lost all hope perhaps? The abyss seems to be a living metaphor for desperation and hopelessness. We see it in Liz’s eyes when looking down at the two men.

p.153
when [Espinoza] woke his stomach hurt and he wanted to die. Is this because he had a fleeting glimpse of reality? Has he lost everything that makes him a little human, that gives him some hope?

p.155
The final part is Pelletier’s dream of water. There’s also the reminder of the people waiting at the beach (see previous week). Water can also represent emotions and the strangest part of the dream was that the water was alive. Is the abyss feeding on people’s emotions? Is the apocalypse representative of a lost sense of happiness? a monster of sorts that feeds off emotions? It reminds me of the dementors in Harry Potter, that same draining of all hope. The loss of serotonin that leads to depression and the effects that can be felt in hangovers and come downs.

And so the scene is set.

Next is Section II The Part About Amalfitano (1 week)

3. Pages 163-228 (65 pages) March 19th