If I Ever Fall by SD Robertson
Is holding on harder than letting go?
The prologue of this novel opens with the most unsettling words to ever come out of anyone's mouth:
"I don't know who I am."
Not only that, this anonymous character has no idea where they are, what has happened to them and why they are struggling to come to in a strange room with a strange person. Then, before we have the chance to work out who this person is and what they might be doing there, we start Chapter one which is set in 2017 and takes the form of a letter.
What intrigued me about this book was that for a while I thought I was reading a thriller. All the ingredients for a mystery are there - a person who appears to be trapped somewhere suffering from 'retrograde amnesia', another character writing a letter in which they are surrounded by odd coincidences yet obviously hiding a secret and a third story line following another character who is suffering from depression and also has a backstory to reveal.
Of course you'll know from the blurb, it isn't a thriller, there isn't a crime to solve but the reader does have to concentrate as we alternate between the three different narratives and timelines and try to work out how these three seemingly separate story lines all in fact fit together. There may not be a crime to solve but there definitely is a little bit of a mystery and there definitely is a sense of threat for each protagonist. There are also a few twists, a few shocks and a few moments of revelation. Each character has a demon to confront and their safety (emotional or physical) to fight for.
I liked the three different narratives. Each is very different - first person, third person and the form of a letter. The letters from Maria to Sam help reveal a lot of information and fill in some of the gaps as the reader begins to piece together the main events and the relationships between the characters. Maria answers a lot of our questions for us which even if occasionally a little contrived, is actually helpful as the other two sections remain more allusive and ambiguous. The letter form encourages Maria to be more honest as it is often more confessional in style and so this helps the reader build a relationship with her and empathise with her struggle.
Dan's storyline reads very easily. It is an authentic voice of a journalist who is coming to terms with the breakdown of his marriage and his faltering relationship with his daughter. There are lots of hints about what might have happened to the family which I liked.
"They'd been so good together. Under normal circumstances, he was sure they'd still be happily married. But what they'd been through was enough to tear apart even the strongest of unions."
Both Dan and Maria's sections explore different responses to grief, different responses to parenting and different responses to making a marriage survive after a tragedy. Neither is right, neither is wrong, neither is more likeable or more pitiable. They offer different insights and ultimately compound the sense of sadness, hopelessness and despair of the novel.
I liked the sections about "John" the most. They are very cleverly written and Robertson recreates the sense of confusion, frustration and fear really effectively as "John" struggles to remember who he is and what has happened to him. The presentation of a sluggish mind that drifts between reality, dreams and flashbacks is really well written and I liked the tension and suspense that these passages created. The mysterious appearance of the girl in red is intriguing and the repetition of words like "it's not safe here," "you have to open your eyes," and "John's" sense of anxiety create a great atmosphere of unease.
The marketing campaign for this book has involved tissues and the warning that this is a bit of a tear jerker. I didn't need any tissues but I did feel a sense of sadness and I did feel sympathy for Maria and Dan. The novel tackles a difficult subject and does it with sensitivity. There is a promise of hope at the end of the story which I welcomed and felt it was a fitting finale to the protagonists' journeys.
As the blurb on Goodreads recommends, this is a book for fans of Amanda Prowse, Kathryn Hughes and JoJo Moyes. I enjoyed discovering a new author and I will definitely read Robertson's first novel "Time To Say Goodbye".
"If I Ever Fall" is published on the 9th February by Avon.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)
S D Robertson
Former journalist S.D. Robertson quit his role as a local newspaper editor to pursue a lifelong ambition of becoming a novelist.
An English graduate from the University of Manchester, he’s also worked as a holiday rep, door-to-door salesman, train cleaner, kitchen porter and mobile phone network engineer.
Over the years Stuart has spent time in France, Holland and Australia, but home these days is back in the UK. He lives in a village near Manchester with his wife and daughter. There’s also his cat, Bernard, who likes to distract him from writing – usually by breaking things.