When is becomes obvious that young Gerald Rougeaux has a prodigious musical talent, his family ensure that he is able to pursue this, and he moves from Montreal to New York to study in the early 1900s. But, is music the only passion he harbours in his soul? Boy, Falling follows Gerard and his half-sister, Jeannette as they navigate intolerance and injustice with the utmost integrity.
Boy, Falling is, without doubt, one of the most beautifully written novels that I have read so far this year. The prose is achingly lovely; intricate, elegant and wholly without pretension. The novel encompasses, and confronts wide-ranging prejudicial views, and does so with considered depth. It is, broadly speaking, a hybrid work of historical fiction and family drama but, personally, I thought Boy, Falling was literary fiction at its finest.
From the beginning in Montreal, 1895, strands of intrigue operate at various levels, immediately drawing the reader in, especially as there is a profound twist for Gerard fairly early on. Cleverly, the first few chapters are told in close third person, from Gerard’s point of view as a child, enabling layers of dramatic irony to softly filter through. Gerard is such a wonderfully realised character; his tangled emotions and painful vulnerability so vividly poignant. He is also extremely likeable and his presence on the page has a strangely comforting aspect although, in many parts of his story, you desperately want to put your arms around him when his acute self-awareness and loathing threaten to derail him. All the characters are brilliantly and realistically depicted; their dialogue nicely precise yet individually nuanced, and weighted with unspoken emotion and impending doom. Miriam Cartier was an especially good example of this.
Just after halfway, the novel switches to Jeannette’s story. At first, she appears to be a slightly weaker character than Gerard but gradually she becomes stronger and the birth of her two daughters consolidates her confidence and defines her personality. As with Claude and Gerard, the relationship between her and Macon is shot through with foreboding from the beginning. Ms Jaeckel could have taken a well-trodden route with him, and at times, it threatens (as he does), but instead she chose a different, more sympathetic path and I thought it worked very well.
The last fifth of the novel is concerned with Maudie, Jeannette’s youngest daughter. Anyone with a spark of creativity will recognise elements of Maudie in themselves, at times, her sense of disparity was heart-breaking. It is through her, the reader also gains another aspect of Gerard, that of Uncle. However, because we have been privy to his struggles and feelings of isolation, which mirror Maudie’s, although for different reasons, the reader is subtly aware that if anyone can help her, Gerard can.
The chapters jump, sometimes in months and sometimes in years, keeping the momentum fresh and the tempo lively. It does not linger too long in one period or allow events of the time, such as WWII, to overshadow what is essentially a story of the human condition with all its unique facets and flaws.
Boy, Falling is a truly mesmerising and hauntingly beautiful book – highly recommended.