Fragment of a text by Jenny Pausacker, Melbourne writer and critic
Halfway through, I take a break because, after all, one has to eat - which gives me a chance to assess what I've been reading. A detective story in the Patricia Highsmith tradition where you know from the start that something terrible has happened but you're forced to wait till the end before you find out what and why. A story about the power of history, where Lucas's and Caitlin's individual choices turn out to be heavily determined by the choices their families made in the past. An analysis of racism as only a novelist can view it, seen from the inside suspending judgment, holding conflicting perspectives in balance. Forget about roughage. This isn't some worthy literary experience. This is a magic mirror, reflecting Australia in the nineties and Pauline Hansons' One Nation.
Dinner's over. I've had a rest. It's time to read on.
So, okay, something terrible does happen and it is really terrible. A version of my own worst fear, in fact - and that is all I'm going to tell you. But, although Provoost has run me through the full gamut of pity and terror, I don't have the sick feeling I have after reading a Robert Cormier novel, the sense that I've been manipulated into viewing life as a pretty hopeless business. Provoost deals with some pretty dark stuff - xenophobia, the human tendency to look for scapegoats, our secret desires to hurt and revenge ourselves on those closest to us - but she understands what she's dealing with and she's allowed me to share that understanding. So I can continue to hope that the Lucases of this world will eventually get wisdom and understanding too.
Obviously Falling is a novel of ideas but the ideas never overwhelm the novel. As a first person narrative, it's unusual because Lucas is neither an unreliable narrator, in the style of Gary Crew's Stephen Messenger, nor the sympathetic character that most first person narrators become. And, partly because Lucas reveals himself to us rather than explaining himself to us, this first person narrative is also untypically visual. Falling is structured around images - Caitlin dancing, the view from Lucas' window, the chainsaw, the wounded dove and dozens more - that accrue and change meanings during the course of the book and give a very physical immediacy to Provoost's basic concepts.
So, despite my initial hesitations, Falling turns out to be a reviewer's dream run. It's even easy to come up the critical comment that proves I'm not just a besotted fan. Lucas's language is, quite regularly, too formal for a boy who '… didn't take any books (on holiday) because I don't like reading…' which may be an accurate translation of Provoost or may be a tendency that Provoost and translator John Nieuwenhuizen both share. I can't tell, because (time for a bit of self criticism) I've been too caught up by the momentum of the novel to assess Falling specifically as a translation. Even now, when I pick it up and try to focus on the questions that Aidan (Chambers) raised, I just get involved again.
Well, come to think of it, I suppose that means it's an excellent translation, doesn't it?