Falling – falling from grace, falling in love, falling out of love, falling over, falling down, falling apart, the harder you fall – so many quotes about falling, and they could all apply to the characters in this first novel from Wellington poet and short story writer Janis Freegard. Such a clever and simple idea to build a story around.
The lives in various stages of falling are those of two sisters, Selina and Smith. Their mother deserted them and their father when Selina was just a toddler and Smith was a teenager. Even though their father did the best job he could raising his daughters by himself, the absence of their mother has affected both girls in quite diverse ways over the years since.
Selina is now 29, a graphic designer working for an advertising company in Wellington city, single, living alone in a flat in Brooklyn on the property of her landlady, Quilla, a semi-reclusive older woman with her own story to tell. Selina is, quite frankly, a bit of mess. She drinks too much, is unreliable in her work, recently broke up with her boyfriend, and her much-loved father and his wife are in the process of moving to Australia. At the same time as porcelain dolls begin turning up on her doorstep, she begins an affair with a celebrity chef who not long afterwards, disappears.
Smith, being somewhat older that than her sister, has never been able to move away from the surrogate role of mothering Selina. She has sacrificed many opportunities in her life to look after Selina through her various issues, and is now living in Takaka in a house bus, part of a cooperative community, finally having found some peace in her life. Ever the carer, she is also caring for a young woman who is terminally ill, and the woman’s nine-year-old son. With all this going on, she has taken it upon herself to also try and find her and Selina’s mother.
Selina is the central character in the story, and well over half is told in her voice, with Smith and Quilla in alternating chapters. The characterisations are terrific. They are well-rounded, flawed characters, trying to live a life and hold themselves together. We also get to see each character viewed through the eyes of the others which gives quite a different dimension to each woman. All three women and the minor characters felt like real people – the likes of Selina could easily be in your workplace, and Quilla is instantly recognisable as the elderly neighbour living alone, keeping an eye on things.
The locations of the story also feature prominently. Wellington in particular I enjoyed very much reading about, hailing from that city myself. I can see the winding streets of Brooklyn, the houses perched on the slope down off the road, or up steep driveways, the bush of the town belt as an ominous and slightly threatening backdrop. By contrast, the author writes about Takaka in a completely different way – the natural beauty of the place comes shining through, symbolic of being far better for one’s mental and emotional health than Wellington. And for a place of complete difference and contrast – Iceland!
This is a story of searching for one’s self, trying to identify and then hold onto the important things, and finding a place to call home whether it be a physical place, or simply in your own head and heart. There is hope, forgiveness, joy and love. It is a wonderful story, I very much enjoyed reading it. I really hope this book gets widely read and promoted, because it certainly deserves to.
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
The Year of Falling
by Janis Freegard
Published by Makaro Press