The Fall - American reviews

 

From the New York Times, January 5 2003:

''Dramatic'' is certainly the adjective of choice for ''The Fall,'' Simon Mawer's fine new novel about mountaineering… The story... extends back through over half a century of personal history, involving two generations of two different families of climbers. Adding in their spouses and lovers, this makes for a potentially unwieldy cast of characters, but Mawer… handles the complexity with impressive ease. He shuttles smoothly between decades and generations, piecing together a rich composite portrait of a group of people ruled by (and often misled by) their passions -- both for the mountains and for one other…

… (Mawer) writes with patience and great physical precision, investing every scene with a cinematic abundance of sights and sounds, whether he's describing a traumatic kitchen-table abortion or the aural drama of the London Blitz during World War II… And that precision extends to his depiction of psychological states as well. The scenes in which 19-year-old Diana falls for the much older (yet somehow more innocent) Guy Matthewson are utterly convincing, one of the most credible accounts I've ever read of two people falling in love.

But for a novel like this to succeed, the mountaineering scenes must exhilarate, and this is never an easy task. Climbing and sex (two activities that are compared perhaps once too often in the novel) present similar challenges to a writer, descriptions of each being vulnerable to excesses of procedural detail on the one hand and unbridled effusiveness on the other. Mawer avoids both traps; he gives us scenes that convey the giddy experience of climbing without burying us in either technical jargon or purple rhetoric.

''There is something old-fashioned about climbing,'' Mawer writes near the end of the novel. ''It lets in emotions that one does not readily admit to any longer: companionship, commitment, even love.'' The Fall is old-fashioned in just that way. By combining the adrenaline-filled appeal of a mountaineering adventure with the emotional clout of a love story, Simon Mawer has created an exemplary model of that quaint old relic -- the satisfying read.
Gary Krist

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From the Washington Post, January 2003:

The Fall's stark opening hardly prepares the reader for the gaping valleys and dizzying peaks of Mawer's latest work. The book's plot simmers with abandoned youthful friendship and slightly sordid love affairs, employing mountaineering and memory as its controlling metaphors…

…When Rob, Jamie and their mothers and lovers start to climb, Mawer uses the occasion to craft mini-essays on mountaineering and paints gorgeous landscapes ...the novel ripples with energy and verve... Mawer guides readers expertly into the jargon and slang of the mountaineering set with the surest of hands, crafting a solid and physical prose that pulls even the rankest of amateurs upward with it. At one moment, he describes a novice's impression on her third day of climbing, and captures perfectly the blend of growing confidence and continued apprehension… (he) is even better with the landscapes against which The Fall unfolds. The glum features of a Welsh mining town sigh into flower in his prose…

When Mawer essays the glories of conquered peaks and the supplicant landscapes below them, his words even evoke comparison with those capital-R Romantics… Yes, we've heard this language before, but Mawer freshens it beyond immediate recognition into an active presence. His strengths in guiding us through the nooks and crannies of mountaineering and its stark landscape suggest that he could successfully cast off brain for brawn in his future work…
Richard Byrne

From the Daily Camera, February 2003:

...a story beautifully woven against a backdrop of stunning scenery...

From San Jose Mercury News, January 2003:

Mawer seems to be that old-fashioned thing, a novelist of ideas with a gift for embodying them in good stories... "The Fall'' could be his most original book, although it could also be that I am entirely ignorant of the fictional world of climbing; in any case I can think of no book to compare it to except Trevanian's "The Eiger Sanction,'' which is unfair to both writers -- Mawer is simply not a genre writer...

Mawer is a wonderful writer with a considerable gift for novel construction as well -- two sets of skills that do not always come packaged together -- and he gives his books the ring of truth because he knows things and he does his research. I look forward to his next obsession.
David L. Beck

 

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From the Courier-Post, January 2003:

Simon Mawer has given his latest novel a wonderfully allusive title and a story to match.A tale of love and betrayal among two generations of British mountaineers, The Fall is about physical strength, moral weakness and the enduring, tenuous and even treacherous connections of the heart. It's an uplifting, disturbing and sumptuously entertaining book by a writer at the top - make that the peak - of his game
Kevin Riordan

From Publishers' Weekly, December 2002:

Uncommonly wise and painstakingly crafted, this tale of struggles on personal and physical slopes ranges from present-day Wales to blitz-era London, tracking two generations of tangled love affairs...

...Mawer has created characters and situations that overflow with truly believable pain and exhilaration, and he endows the narrative with a surging energy that pushes the book forward, all the way to an end which, like the final line of a haiku, casts a startling light on everything that came before it.
PW

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