A(nother) Year Of Orenda: Fall by West Camel

Today I am absolutely delighted to share my thoughts on the brand new novel from West Camel, Fall. I loved the author’s previous novel, Attend and so have been looking forward to seeing what he would offer us next. My thanks go to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for providing an advance copy for review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invite. Here’s what the book is about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy/Owned ebook
Release Date: 09 December 2021
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

Estranged brothers are reunited over plans to develop the tower block where they grew up, but the desolate estate becomes a stage for reliving the events of one life-changing summer, forty years earlier.

Twins Aaron and Clive have been estranged for forty years. Aaron still lives in the empty, crumbling tower block on the riverside in Deptford where they grew up. Clive is a successful property developer, determined to turn the tower into luxury flats.

But Aaron is blocking the plan and their petty squabble becomes something much greater when two ghosts from the past – twins Annette and Christine – appear in the tower. At once, the desolate estate becomes a stage on which the events of one scorching summer are relived – a summer that shattered their lives, and changed everything forever…

Grim, evocative and exquisitely rendered, Fall is a story of friendship and family – of perception, fear and prejudice, the events that punctuate our journeys into adulthood, and the indelible scars they leave – a triumph of a novel that will affect you long after the final page has been turned.

Illustrations by David F. Ross

My Thoughts

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book. I knew from reading Attend that West Camel is capable of creating beautifully evocative prose, of taking readers on an unforgettable journey and had no doubt that would be the case again. And it was, but in a way that both contrasted with and complimented his previous novel, presenting readers with a story not steeped in magical realism as Attend had been, but a tale of past transgressions and grave mistakes, the kind of regrets that can tear a family apart. A tale of irreparable divisions, something that I am sure many readers would be able to identify with.

This is the story of twin brothers, Aaron and Clive, once as close as peas in a pod, as only twins can be, now estranged for reasons that will take some time to be revealed. It is clear that whatever happened in their past, it has far reaching consequences, one twin destined to stay in the flat that they once both called home, the other determined to tear it down. From the beginning I had to wonder how their fortunes, and their memories and attachment to the place Aaron calls home, could differ so greatly, but the more I read, the more I came to understand. This is a story that is awash with tragedy, the extent of which will not be clear for some time, and it is well hidden by moments of almost joyous celebration and freedom that comes in the shape of twin sisters, Annette and Christine.

It felt natural that Aaron and Clive should be so immediately drawn to Annette and Christine. Although older than them, the girls have a vibrancy about them, a love of life which adds a new dimension to the boys otherwise limited world. They are also Black, which in 1970s Deptford was a very big deal, and that conflict, that division between race and cultures is portrayed carefully but effectively on the page. There is the overt racism of the girl’s neighbours, and them casual undermining of their position in Aaron and Clive’s lives that we witness from the boy’s mother, Zoe. all of which rang so perfectly true, and whilst not dominating the story to the degree that is becomes merely a story of class and racial divisions, it certainly informs it and shapes the fates of all of the characters in perhaps unexpected ways.

West Camel has created some very complex and multi-faceted characters in this novel. In spite of all of their similarities, both in looks and personalities, you still pick up on the subtle differences between Clive and Aaron from the very start. Clive is much more forthright and confident than his brother, his actions driving some of the most startling and pivotal moments of the story. Similarly, Annette and Christine are two very different personalities, but so very full of life that they bring a touch of magic and an entirely new outlook to Clive and Aaron’s very limited social spheres. But it is Zoe who really fascinated me. She is a complicated character, very much lost in the wonder of her creative pursuits, obsessed with the apartment complex in which they live and that she was responsible for designing.

There is something almost aloof about Zoe, something that made me feel there were many things about her past that have yet to be revealed. She is lost in the world of her own making, perhaps trapped there to a degree too, immersing herself too deeply in the ideal of this wonderful new life in Deptford in a way that could never quite come to be. She was a woman ahead of her time, creating and designing great works of architecture in a time that still failed to properly acknowledge the skills and capabilities of a woman, to understand that they could be every bit as strong as that of a male counterpart. She is a point of fascination for Christine and Annette, her achievements a thing of almost legend in their eyes, although this in itself creates a point of tension that takes some time to be fully revealed and resolved.

This is a dual timeline story and West Camel has woven the two threads together perfectly, taking readers from the present day conflict between Clive, who wants to rip down and regenerate the old apartment complex, and Aaron, who doesn’t, to the events back in the fateful summer of 1976 when everything changed. There is certainly more of a melancholic tone to the present day scenes, and the more we read, the more we understand of the past, the easier it is to understand the way in which the present has been shaped and perhaps darkened a touch. There is a vibrancy to the scenes form the past, in part due to Annette and Christine, but also because, back then, both Clive and Aaron, perhaps even Zoe, has a sense of hope and the possibilities for the future seemed unlimited.

The writing is beautifully descriptive as I would expect from this author, and the imagery strong, bringing each scene and setting to life on the page. There is a quirk in the styling, a slight twist on the typical punctuation and use of speech marks that some may find off putting, and I will admit it took me a time to settle into the flow of the book, but it really does work and suits the overall tone and style of the narrative. Above all, much like with Attend, this is a book that will elicit a whole array of emotions, allow readers to identify with so many aspects of the story and the lives of Clive and Aaron.

What may appear at first pass to be a simple tale of family tragedy and division, is actually an understated but complex tragedy, an undulating story of family, prejudice, power plays and injustice set against a backdrop of endless concrete, once inspiring a sense of hope and unity but ultimately driving loss and division. A hauntingly lyrical novel, full of memorable characters and littered with moments and revelations that can both surprise and yet seem almost inevitable all at once. Recommended.

About the Author

Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editorial director at Orenda with editing The Riveter magazine and #RivetingReviews for the European Literature Network.

He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres, and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. His debut novel, Attend was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize and longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award.

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