Each year I have the pleasure of working with a group of readers to collectively select the books that will feature in a reading programme, Summer Reads. Between August 2013 and January 2014, the Readers' Circle will work through a longlist of more than 150 books to find the 6 titles that we fall in love with and want to recommend to other readers. And throughout that period I'll be posting some of the reviews here on Books, Time and Silence.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of this book.
Guest Review by Ann Browne
Fallen Land is probably the best novel I have read this year. It is set in the present, in the shadow of the global financial crisis, but there is a feeling of the not too distant future about the events. This allows the book to work both at the level of realism and of parable, a device which enables Flanery to present an extreme and powerful vision of a failing society.
The Fallen Land is America but it could be almost any developed society that is disintegrating or suffering economic, moral and social collapse. Its citizens have been cast out of what could have been a paradise. The American dream has become a nightmare. Built on the misery of others, the land and its people are rotting. This is a haunting and bleak picture of a society in which no one trusts anyone and where greed and fear have become its guiding principles.
Patrick Krovik, the character at the centre of the novel, is an almost archetypical tragic hero. He is a hard-working, self-made man, devoted to his family, determined to make a good and secure future for his children but with an obsessive, unthinking belief in the fulfilment of his American dream. Instead of succeeding he loses everything - his family, his business, his ambition and his pride. He is reduced to living without dignity like a trapped and wounded animal that must be put down.
Louise Washington, the other central figure, acts as a foil to Krovik. But there is no place for her memories or dreams in this society. In this world even social enterprises such as prisons and schools are run for profit and their regimes are organised in ways that are intended to produce unreflective automata rather than civilised citizens.
Krovik is destroyed and Louise cannot survive so what is the future for developed societies? Does it lie in the hands of those who create obedient robots without individuality, personal hopes or a sense of community? And will the inhabitants continue to trample on the past rather than learn from it, pursuing returns and revenue at the expense of civilised and humane values?
Fallen Land is an ambitious novel on a grand scale. It presents big ideas and asks big questions about society and the direction it might take. It has and will, I am sure, continue to stay with me.
Fallen Land was published by Atlantic Books in May 2013. ISBN: 9780857898777, 422pp
I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to be able to share my passion for reading, writing and language first, as a teacher of young children and later as a lecturer. Now that I am retired, I can immerse myself in books even more. Being part of the 2013 Summer Reads readers’ circle was an absolute joy. I discovered new authors and enjoyed discussing the books with others. I am sure that the 2014 readers’ circle will be just as rewarding and exciting.