Author: Juliet West
ISBN 13: 978-1447259053
By Angela Vincent
“I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the rivers, 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…”
Some weeks ago, I posted about the Chiswick Book Festival where I went to hear Juliet West talk about her debut novel Before The Fall. I didn’t buy the book at the time, although I kept it on my radar. Just last week, I spotted it on the shelf in my local library and quickly snapped it up. With the 100 year anniversary of the First World War this year and with remembrance day fast approaching, it seemed the perfect time to read and review it.
Although the story is fictitious, it is inspired by real events that took place in London during the First World War. It is primarily the story of Hannah Loxwood, the wife of one of the many men who volunteered to go and fight for their country. Mostly, Hannah does not know if her husband is alive or dead. She rarely hears from him and has been left to raise their two children on her own. She has had to move in with her parents and her truculent sister and brother-in-law while also barely having enough money or food to live on. She is aware that London is gradually falling down around her as bombs shatter her world. When she meets Daniel, her life takes a turn that she never imagined.
From the beginning I had sympathy for Hannah and other women like her–It was an interesting perspective to take: looking at war through the eyes of a woman who did not feel immensely proud of what her husband was doing but feeling let down by him leaving her, at the same time feeling the implications that his leaving had on her life and the life of their children. The reality for many women left behind was a life of hardship and uncertainty. This new life led Hannah to make choices–the consequences of which were hate and betrayal from other women and estrangement from her own family.
It is Hannah’s character which is perhaps the most compelling but all the characters were well developed and deserve a reaction. The writing is vivid and haunting in its descriptions of life in the East End, and the stench of the river and the heavy fog seeps through the pages.
“The high tide heaves, rising with the Thames, grey, oily water sucking and slapping against the muddy banks. This water can swallow you up in an eye-blink, whether you want to be swallowed or not”
This book has a tremendous ending with some very clever twists which had me completely enthralled until the last page. I would love for there to be a sequel with one of the remaining characters–but more than that I will not say as I would hate to give anything away.
I can’t review this book without mentioning the book cover. It is one of the most stylish I have seen for a long time and I feel fairly sure that even if I had not heard Juliet West speak so passionately about her book, I would have been drawn to it by the cover alone.
So, if you would like a different perspective on the the First World War, if you are interested in the role of women during the war, or if you would simply like to read a beautifully written story, then this is probably the book for you.
About the Author
Juliet West grew up in Worthing and studied history at Cambridge University. She trained as a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and went on to work for newspapers and magazines in Dorset, Hampshire and London.
In 2009 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she graduated with distinction and won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize.
The opening chapters of her debut novel, Before the Fall, were shortlisted for the Myriad Editions/West Dean novel writing competition in 2012. The novel was published in hardback and ebook by Mantle at Pan Macmillan in May 2014, and is now also published in paperback by Pan.
Juliet lives with her husband and three children in West Sussex. She is currently working on her second novel. | Website
Text © 2014 Angela Vincent
Re-print © 2014 The Black Lion Journal
Re-printed with permission.
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