Book review: Before The Fall, by Juliet West
It is very difficult to say much about the plot of this book without giving too much away. So I shall stick to just a few basics from the opening pages, before going on to say how this book made me feel.
The book opens in 1916, East London. Hannah Loxwood is a mother of two children, who is now living with her sister and brother-in-law since her own husband has gone to fight on the front line. We follow Hannah over the next couple of years, as her life comes together before.... nope, can't spoil it for you!
This is a superbly written book, full of historic details and descriptions that let you see, hear and smell what is going on. The dingy and grimy streets, the noisy trams, the dark and oppressing stale air, the creek, the docks, the rations, and the bombs. Above all, we are reminded of how much times have changed and how difficult things were for some people just a hundred years ago. As Hannah's life changes in ways she could not have anticipated, and she experiences her father's illness and then suffers depression herself, the huge advances in social and medical support we now benefit from are stark reminders of how things were then.
The closing chapters of this book are utterly moving. A twist I did not see coming, an outcome I was totally unprepared for.
Juliet West has a real skill in developing believable interesting and multi-faceted characters, set in a place and time so carefully depicted that you can understand the underlying tensions, the social norms and the family values. This book is based on true accounts from the time, which add to a sense of desperation and shock. Yet it is quite conceivable that the tale of Hannah Loxwood is not unique, and the challenges she and her family face were all too familiar to many others.
This is definitely one to read, but expect to be moved and shaken as the tale unfolds.
Before The Fall, by Juliet West is published by Pan Macmillan and available to order from their website.
Disclosure: Pan Macmillan sent me this book to keep for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own.