Spring, 1915. Katie Crilly gets the news she dreaded: her beloved twin brother, Liam, has been killed on the Western Front.
A year later, when her home city of Dublin is suddenly engulfed in violence, Katie finds herself torn by conflicting emotions. Taking refuge in the home of a friend, she meets Hubie Wilson, a friend of Liam’s from the Front.
There unfolds a remarkable encounter between two young people, both wounded and both trying to imagine a new life.
Fallen by Lia Mills was published on 5 June by Penguin Ireland – looking at Amazon here in the UK, I see it’s already available for Kindle, but that the paperback isn’t due for release until February 2015. So my timing for this review might be a little off, but there’s never really such a thing as bad timing when you’re making everyone aware of a book that’s so compelling and superbly written.
This is the story of Katie, living in Dublin at the start of the First World War, educated to degree level only because the same opportunity was available to her twin brother Liam, prevented from continuing any further by her traditionalist parents, trying to find something challenging with which to fill her time. She secures a post helping a female scholar writing a book about the statues of Dublin, while waiting for news of Liam who has volunteered for the Western Front. This is a book that deals graphically with the horrors of the trenches – we share the letters from Liam that sometimes bring solace to Katie after his death, but sometimes raise questions she really can’t answer, and also hear the unvarnished truth from Hubie who served with Liam at the Front.
But then the book takes a different turn – still struggling with Liam’s death, Katie is turned away from a public park by the threat of violence, and we witness Dublin’s Easter Rising through her eyes as an accidental observer. Initially a little naive, a product of her age and upbringing, her experiences help her reach an understanding of what Liam lived through, and see her achieving a remarkable transformation of her own.
There are the inevitable comparisons with Sebastian Faulks – certainly with the unflinching examination of the horror of war, and the beauty of the writing. There are images throughout this book that will long stay with me – the vivid descriptions of the suburban streets of 1916 Dublin taken over by the brutality of the insurrection, and the incongruity of the serene swans on the canal amid the ugliness. It’s not a difficult read in any way – other than its subject matter at times – but the writing has a poetic quality that is quite both enchanting and very moving, and the development of the characters is quite mesmerising. Most definitely a book to look out for.
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Penguin Books for my advance reading e-copy.
Lia Mills is the author of two previous novels, Another Alice and Nothing Simple, and a memoir In Your Face. She lives in Dublin. For more information on the author and her books, she has an excellent website.