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BOOK REVIEW: If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

| 29 March 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

William Heinemann
March 2015
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die. 

He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags. His eyeballs did not sizzle in their sockets, and his heart’s pistons did not seize. No barbarian lopped his head into a blood-soggy wicker basket, and no glinting ninja stars were zinged into his throat. 

Actually, incredibly; nothing happened  – no immolation, no bloodbath, no spontaneous asphyxiation, no tide of shivery terror crashing upon the shore of his heart – not even a trace of his mother’s Black Lagoon in his breath. 

Twelve-year-old Will has never been outside, at least not since he can remember. His mother has severe agoraphobia and is fiercely protective of him, so they stay inside and name the rooms in their house after different cities around the world.

They’d always called the kitchen Paris, his studio New York, their bedroom San Francisco, the living room Cairo. She told him it had been his idea when he was young, yet he couldn’t remember having it.

To read certain quotes from within this book, to read the opening few chapters, the reader might find themselves anticipating an entirely different book than they end up getting.

“What I’m most afraid of is breaking apart and losing everything.”
“Aren’t you already broken apart?”
“Not completely.”
“Well, maybe you just need to get it over with,” he said, “like I do in skateboarding. If I’m scared to try a trick, I need to fall once really bad, and then I’m not scared anymore.”

The premise is interesting, it deals with some interesting themes, the writing is interesting, but at some point it all starts to wear on the reader. It’s true, there are a lot of quotables in this book, a lot of fantastic lines, but it’s almost as though the book is trying to be too clever, too literary for the story it’s trying to tell.

Will’s forming of friendships, learning to skateboard, becoming his own rebellious person, and his mother’s occasional flashbacks to her own childhood and events before she locked herself away from the world all pass by rather vaguely. Most events are told in passing, grouped together, without too many details, padding around the occasional event which is more sharply focused upon.

Almost two-hundred pages were whittled away in this vagary, with the external catalyst finally coming into play a little after, and the only real climax happened within the last thirty pages, which felt rather out of step with the entire rest of the novel.

There are elements of this book which explore mental illness, and just how debilitating it can be, how it can affect those around the sufferer, those who love them. There are elements that explore coming of age, exploring the world for the first time, figuring out your place in the Outside. There are elements in this book which are literary, pretty, poetic.
The problem is that I’m not entirely sure all three mesh too well together, and, heaped so heavily on top of one another with a narrative style that fails to engage the reader, they make for a book which is a very slow read.

This is 323 page book which should have taken a week at most for this reviewer to read, but ended up taking a month and one day, and I’m not sure I would have pushed through if this hadn’t been for review.

In the end, a quote from the novel sums up how I felt about it pretty well:

He’d got the idea from his mother’s films, which he’d finally watched and found unnerving and occasionally beautiful, even though nothing happened.




Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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