Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 October e-book; 9 December p/back
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
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.
West Camel’s Fall is a beautifully written story of family, divided loyalties and what happens when ghosts come back to haunt you. Reading it is like watching a tight flower bud unfurl one petal at a time. Fascinating, rather beautiful in its natural process; leaving you wanting to see the whole flower but not wanting to rush it because the process is itself a thing of beauty and so immersive.
Fall centres on an estate in Deptford. Designed by architect Zoë Goldsworthy to be the ultimate in communal living, she believed in it so much she moved her family there after it was built. David Ross’ architectural drawings give a sense of what Zoe wanted to achieve – planned building of different heights where everyone could live, shop and socialise along the banks of the Thames. It was a democratic vision from an architect of single minded resolve; Zoe was the first woman to design such an ambitious estate and it cost her dearly.
Fall has a dual timeline narrative. It takes place in 1976 just after the estate was built and in the present day, when the estate lies derelict and developers are eyeing it up with a view to creating luxury flats on a demolished site.
Central to the tale are Clive and Aaron. They are twins but have not spoken to each other for 40 years; the events of one summer’s night stand between them. Now Aaron and Clive are on opposite sides of this argument. Clive has become a developer; Aaron is the last resident, holding out against demolition.
At least he was the last resident. Now two others have moved back in. Not seen for years, Christine and Annette have returned to the estate which eschewed them all those years ago. In Fall, West Camel tackles big themes with a story of tragedy, betrayal and a lifetime of regrets.
There’s stillness and poetry to his writing that has a resonating impact. Picturing the boys looking down at their mother from their tower block, they see ‘her white linen trousers a sail crossing a grey concrete sea’.
Zoë is a woman in a man’s world. The choices she has made to achieve her success is something we discover as the book progresses. What is clear almost from the beginning though, is how the residents of this estate view their first black neighbours, and it isn’t pretty. Camel provides beautifully observed portraits of Aaron and Clive – showing their affinity; the way they finish each other’s sentences and how their thought processes seem interlinked, with one twin dominant, but the other never far behind.
Annette and Christine are also twins. We know them less well because they are outsiders and destined to remain so for as long as they live on the estate. They are joyful though. It is they who bring life and song to Deptford Strand and that makes the betrayal they face so much harder to bear.
Fall is a story of families; of being a woman in a man’s world and of the choices we make and the regrets that we have to live with as a result. There is sacrifice, and prejudice; bad decisions and subsequent regrets in this beautiful, immersive story set against the grey concrete blocks of Deptford Strand. Idealism vies with reality as we see how Zoe’s brutalist architectural vision becomes a trap for those who live there; watching as it slowly crumbles into decay.
Immersive, beautiful, and haunting, Fall is a novel that will bear re-reading over the years. Each phrase is so well-judged; each character has their own place in a story that transcends its plot and the clarity and distinction of the writing is a joy to savour. I adored it.
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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 editor at Orenda with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations, including ghost-writing a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine 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. Attend, his first novel was shortlisted for the Polari prize.