Review – Before The Fall by Juliet West

By | April 5, 2014

A great war.  A powerful love. An impossible choice.

“I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the river, in the grey air that we breathe. It is a current that runs through all of us. You can’t escape the current; either you swim with it, or you go under.”

1916. Across the channel, the Great War rages; in London’s East End, with her husband away fighting, Hannah Loxwood struggles to hold everything together. But when Hannah takes a job in a café, she discovers a glimpse of freedom away from her needy young children, her spiteful sister and desperately ill father.

While the conflict drags on, Hannah battles with the overwhelming burden of ‘duty’. She has sacrificed so much for a husband who left her behind, a husband who may never come home. Then, when she meets Daniel – thoughtful, intelligent, quietly captivating – Hannah finds herself faced with the most dangerous of temptations . . .

As the war grips tighter and bombs fall down upon the streets, the stakes for the couple grow ever higher. Soon Hannah and Daniel will realise just how precarious their happiness is, as their destiny rushes towards them . . .

When I read and reviewed Wake by Anna Hope, I really thought there couldn’t be another novel quite that good about people’s lives set against the backdrop of the First World War.  But I was wrong – I’ve just finished reading an ARC of the wonderful Before The Fall by Juliet West, can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops.  If you’re looking for another book that captures the imagination and enthralls you throughout, set during that era, don’t miss this one whatever you do.

The cover note tells you all you need to know about the story.  Hannah is a wonderfully drawn central character – dealing with a father who no longer recognises her, two young children who are a real handful, living with her unpleasant sister and her lecherous brother-in-law, her husband away at war.  When Daniel crosses her path, she has choices to make that change the course of not only her life but the lives of everyone around her. 

The way in which the author brings wartime London to life is quite enthralling – the shortage of food, the implications of working at the munitions factory, the threat of conscription hanging over those not in a reserved occupation, the expectations of how a married woman should behave.  The setting really comes alive on the page, and all the characters set against it are vividly drawn.  I loved Hannah’s friend Dor, and her preparations for a night out where she hopes to meet the man of her dreams but is giving up hope with most of them at the Front. And her friend Nettie at the cafe, with the film star smile marred by the loss of a tooth.

The central love story will stay with me for a long time – such love, such passion, and powerfully moving.  This is a wonderful story of love against all the odds, full of tenderness, bravery and the world in which they live: inspired by a true story, it will stay with me for a long time. It’s is a real page turner, as you desperately want to see what will become of Hannah and Daniel.  And it’s quite beautifully written, with believable dialogue and vivid description.  I loved it – however weary you might be becoming of the wartime theme, please don’t miss this one.

Before The Fall will be published by Macmillan/Mantle in hardcover and kindle editions on 22 May 2014: the paperback is due in August from Pan.  My thanks to Amazon Vine and the publishers for my uncorrected proof copy.

Juliet West grew up in Worthing and studied history at Cambridge University. She trained as a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and went on to work for newspapers and magazines in Dorset, Hampshire and London.

In 2009 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she graduated with distinction and won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize. The opening chapters of her debut novel, Before the Fall, were shortlisted for the Myriad Editions/West Dean novel writing competition in 2012. 
Juliet lives with her husband and three children in West Sussex. She is currently working on her second novel. For more information on Juliet and her writing, do visit her website.