Set in the late 1960s and up to 1975 it follows the fortunes of young playwright Luke as he struggles with trouble at home with his ex-fighter pilot Polish father and his French mother in an asylum. As he makes a break for London to discover himself he teams up with various theatrical people in the hope of establishing some meaning in his life but will his hang-ups stymie his efforts. An excellent novel to add to Sadie Jones's portfolio and quite different from the other novels written by her.
While I enjoyed Sadie Jones's first two novels, The Outcast and Small Wars, I didn't get on very well with her third, The Uninvited Guests. I'm pleased to say that she's back on form with her fourth - if 'form' is the word for it. I have a funny relationship with Jones's fiction; for me, it seems to be constantly caught between the mediocre and the memorable, and while her novels are not forgettable, they often seem to become more old-fashioned than they ought to be. Fallout is no exception, despite its evocative portrayal of 1970s London theatre makers, and I'm afraid, as with The Outcast, I had to return to its gender roles to try to work out why.
Luke is from a working-class family in the north-east, and feeds his obsession with the theatre by collecting playbills and programmes from performances he cannot afford to go to. A chance meeting with Paul, an aspiring producer, and Leigh, his assistant, propels Luke from his familiar world and inspires him to head to London. Turning up on Paul's doorstep, he is taken on to help with their fledgling company, working as a bin man part-time to pay his rent. When Luke starts to write his own plays, the promise of an entirely different future opens up before him, although he is still tethered by his painful past, especially his mother, confined to a mental institute. As Luke struggles with his writing, young actress Nina Jacobs is crumpling under the weight of her mother's expectations and her own frailty. Even when she wins a central role in her drama school's end-of-year production of Chekhov's Three Sisters, she is unable to deal with the strain of a problematic relationship alongside her part. As Paul, Leigh, Luke and Nina continue with their careers, their fates increasingly begin to intertwine, and Nina and Luke enter into a desperate and volatile affair. What will be left of them both when the smoke clears?
The obsessive love between Nina and Luke is at the centre of this novel, but I felt that Jones was only halfway there with her portrayal of its unholy strength. A significant problem for me lay not in the portrayal of the relationship itself but in the depiction of their two characters. Luke was a stand-out for me from the start, never becoming a naive working-class stereotype but standing up for himself even in a world that he knows little about, and ultimately becoming a greater part of it than those who were born to the theatre. Nina, however, was far more problematic. Much as I detest the use of the term 'strong female character' and the depictions of fictional women who do little else but be strong, I think I can see its flipside here with Nina, who is essentially defined by her weakness. Jones does a good job with the interplay between Luke's long-established role as his mother's carer and his attraction to Nina's vulnerability, but it's difficult to understand why Nina is so attracted to Luke, other than that he represents something so different from everything else in her life. The supporting characters add little. Paul never felt like much more than a name to me, and Leigh, despite enjoying considerable success in her own right, remains Nina's foil, a stable shoulder to cry on who struggles to escape from the set of contrasts Jones sets up between the two women - one of whom is 'good' (for her romantic partners) and one of whom is decidedly not.
It's these stagnant gender roles that mar Fallout, despite its strong writing and interesting subject matter. While still worth reading, especially if you have enjoyed Jones's previous novels, I'm afraid it only confirms my previous frustrations with Jones's work.
Set mostly in London in 1970s, Sadie Jones' fourth novel focuses on Luke Kanowski, a young, good-looking and charismatic playwright who has an unhappy childhood behind him - his French mother has been in an asylum for the insane since he was a small boy and his Polish father takes refuge by drinking himself into oblivion. Setting off from his dreary Northern hometown with two holdalls and his record player, Luke arrives in London and looks up an acquaintance, Paul Driscoll, a young, would-be producer and they soon set up a small theatre company called Graft, situated in a pub where they stage radical plays. Before long they are joined by Leigh Radley, an attractive stage manager who, although very attracted to Luke, becomes Paul's girlfriend, and the three of them move into a rather cramped flat together. In his spare time, and when he is not chasing women, Luke spends hours in his room furiously writing and although he is highly critical of his work, he finally produces a play that becomes a resounding success. His success brings him into the orbit of well-known producer, Tony Moore, and his beautiful but fragile actress wife, Nina. When Luke and Nina set eyes on one another, they fall headlong for one another - but Tony, who is a manipulative and controlling man with unpalatable sexual proclivities is not, for reasons of his own, prepared to let Nina go (and does she really want to?) - and soon everyone around them becomes involved in the fallout.
This is an intense and involving story, where period and setting are carefully evoked and one which explores emotional damage and control. Although not a fast-paced, or plot-driven tale, it does have its compelling moments, and Sadie Jones' portrayal of the world of theatre is particularly convincing with some interesting scenes of drama both on and off the stage. It is true that several of the characters are self-regarding individuals who do not invite immediate sympathy, especially Nina's cold, selfish and ambitious actress mother - however, Luke's torment is very convincingly portrayed - both as a teenager, when in a heart-breaking scene he manages to escape from the asylum with his mother, dressed in her daisy cardigan and wellington boots, and takes her to the National Gallery; and then later, as young man when he suffers further torment with his longing for Nina. An immersive and fraught story of love and loss, of the damage people do to one another, and of being careful what you wish for.
on 21 May 2014
It is beautifully written but where this often suggests it's difficult to read - it is not.
The story, set principally in a theatrical context, is enthralling and the characters diverse, interesting, intriguing. I am not sure why I've held back the fifth star but it could be because there is a slight emptiness at the heart of some of the characters but then again could this be the brittleness of the 'luvvies'? Don't let it put you off : it's a great read.
on 23 May 2014
I found the first half of the book rather plodding and almost gave up on it. The second half improved and I then felt myself being drawn into the characters enough to care what happened.
There were some interesting observations on relationships and how complex they can become.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sadie Jones first two novels and there are glimmers of her talent in this book but it falls short on being a satisfying complete story.
on 20 March 2015
Fallout by Sadie Jones is set in the claustrophobic world of London theatre in the 1960's and early 1970's. We follow the lives of Luke, Paul, Leigh and Nina through their ups and downs of their lives and their relationships with each other and in Luke's case with that of his family.
The characters are mostly interesting, Paul is dependable but passionate about the theatre. Leigh is fiery and strong. Luke who is a talented but secretive playwright is intense and troubled and struggles to commit to the women who constantly throw themselves at him. Nina is a beautiful and talented actress but brittle and damaged, controlled by an overbearing mother and a husband who treats her like an accessory.
The book has lots going for it, the prose is tight and very evocative of the time and the theatre environment. The characters were well drawn and interesting and Jones makes sure you know what makes them tick and why they act the way they do. However, it is a bit like watching an accident in slow motion, it is so clear to the reader what is going to happen and that the characters are behaving foolishly that in places you lose patience with them. Both Luke and Nina have a huge flaws in their characters and sometimes Luke seems so self-obsessed it is hard to see how he would write such insightful plays. I did enjoy the book but it left me feeling a little dissatisfied.
I hoovered up Sadie Jones' novel about love, friendship, theatre and writing, which is primarily set in 1970s London, like a famished woman who hadn't seen food for days.
In fact, it was tempting NOT to stop and explore what there was to eat, as it got in the way of reading time.
Reading Jones' bio, it turns out she is the daughter of a playwright and an actor, so I was chortling `told you so, told you so' to myself, as the authenticity of both the theatrical world, the craft of writing for the theatre world, the small-scale brave production world of UK theatre in the 1970s and the world of the acting fraternity, particularly within work, rang out truthfully.
In some ways (the tangle of passion, the tangle of live performance creativity, the tangle of intense belief in what art and theatre might be ABOUT) this reminded me of Michael Blakemore's Next Season, which has at its centre the actor, whereas here the major role belongs to a writer and his confederates.
Lucasz Kanowski is scarred by being the son of a woman shut away in a mental hospital, and an alcoholic father. He is brittle, fragile, attractive to women and damaged. He is also a compulsive writer, a compulsive reader of plays, drawn to the magic of theatre without ever having seen live performance. It is the 70s before Thatcher, where the Arts were funded, where there was a real buzz around innovative theatre. Luke, later re-inventing himself as Luke Last, has a chance encounter with a young and vibrant would be theatrical producer, Paul, and his possible-might-get-a-leg-over companion Leigh, a sharp tongued young woman with a desire to write. The chance encounter leads to a close friendship between the three, as they pursue their dreams of love and creative work, to a greater or lesser degree of success.
Luke, the central character, pursues and is pursued by women, breaking hearts without meaning to, his curious, honest, direct fragility, without any macho notching up conquests, being part of his dangerous allure.
Jones is a clear writer. The narrative proceeds, well; the central three characters are extremely likeable, idealistic and genuine, and the reader cannot help but root for each of them to survive well. There is a circle of less than attractive, also damaged characters in this world, some of whom choose to inflict damage, some of whom inflict damage without consciously trying to do so.
Jones is as adept at charting the shifting shape of love as she is in describing that world of 70s theatre.
"There was no morning, none to recognise. The sun rose and lit the day, but like a mortal thing the love between them had tipped over into decay
"Let's leave today," she said.
He tried to find words - he who could always find words. He wanted to make her promises, tell her he could save her, and wouldn't give up, but he couldn't find any faith to offer"
I received this as an ARC for review, from the publishers
A novel based in the theatre world of London, with nostalgia, parties and all the confusions, failures and successes of just starting out.
Luke has been brought up in a family with problems. Nina has also been brought up in a non-conventional family setting. It seems they are destined to be together; their paths first crossing in 1961, when they are both very young, and then again eleven years later.
In 1972 Luke leaves his predictable and unfulfilling future in his home town, and moves to London to follow his dreams. He lives in a flat with Paul and Paul’s girlfriend, and joins the world of theatre as a playwright (with a second job of a dustman). He changes his name, puts his past behind him – for the most part – and starts again. Meanwhile Nina has also moved to London with her (very) part time actress mother and Luke and Nina’s paths are about to cross again.
Wonderful reminiscences of the 1970s are included in this novel – the power cuts, the winding steps leading upstairs on a bus, kaftans, chicken kiev etc. etc. etc. Life in London, living in a flat, constant parties, making mistakes, falling in love and finding yourself are all covered in this engrossing book, where following your dreams are more important than doing a “proper” job and earning enough to impress your family.
The life of small theatres is presented wonderfully, describing the glamour and thrill of the performances, plus the background rewrites, the rehearsals in shabby rooms and funding problems. I shall never watch a play in quite the same way again!
There were times when the emotions in the novel leapt out and caught me, plus there were times when Luke just needed to sit down work out how much of his life was real, and how much was just an act. But perhaps a lot of that is what life in 1970’s London was all about, and certainly the atmosphere of London at that time is portrayed extremely well.
Throughout it all there is Nina, sometimes in the background, sometimes to the fore – always a presence for better or worse.
In the 400 pages of this book the only chapter headings are the years. As over 300 pages are set in 1972 I found the lack of chapters made the book quite irritating to read, and this really distracted from the storyline. There are some lines drawn between paragraphs, but I spent quite a bit of time wondering where would be a good time to pause, and then, later, trying to find my place again. The first third of the book I found absorbing, but then there was perhaps a little too much about theatre life (for me) and the storyline rather dragged for a while. After that, though the storyline picked up, I failed to get fully involved again.
An interesting novel for those interested in London life in the 1970s and the realities of working in the theatre.
on 30 November 2014
I have just finished reading 'Fallout' by Sadie Jones and I don't think I have enjoyed it as much as her previous three novels. Jones always writes about damaged characters and dysfunctional relationships and seeing them 'opened out' on the page can be painful and/or confusing for the reader and being able to see and understand why the characters are so flawed does not necessarily make them anymore likable. This is a book about four young people who aspire to work 'in the theatre'. The main two are, Luke, who wants to write plays, grows up in Northern England with a mother in a mental hospital and a father who has opted out of life, not just parenting; and Nina, the only child to a mostly absent mother who kids herself and Nina that she is a actress of some note. It is inevitable that Nina gets sent to acting school. Luke, meets Paul and Leigh when they stop their car to ask directions. Paul describes himself as a producer and Leigh as his assistant. They like Luke's naivety and openness about his life and spend a little time with him. When Luke decides to move to London, he arrives on Paul's doorstep and all four lives become more and more intertwined. Luke and Nina move into the spotlight, while Paul and Leigh appear to become supporting characters.
It is Luke's honesty 'of self' that attracts Paul and Nina and this is referred to several times. For Nina, who has lived with her mother's self-deception and manipulations all her life, this is both fascinating and frightening. Luke, who has wanted to 'feel love' has tried to find the emotion in many physical relationships but does not yet have the skill to recognise it. It is inevitable that these two characters both emotionally feed and feed-on each other. Luke's lack of guile is equally attractive to Paul and Leigh and their feelings for him come the nearest, I think, to what Luke is seeking. They love him and accept him and it is this love, I believe, that makes them appear passive in their roles in the book. Tony, Nina's husband, presents as a self-serving, rather sadistic misogynist who uses passive-aggression to manipulate and control Nina.
Laying over all this, like a blanket, is the stereotypical gender roles of the times and Jones points this out clearly when she has Leigh 'make a scene' outside the theatre where Tony's production is showing.
I did not enjoy reading this book and found it hard work to stay with it but I could not have stopped reading either. I felt all manner of emotions for the characters but never liked them. I kept expecting that moment when I would realise that I cared about the people I was reading about and it didn't really happen. I experienced a sort of 'softening' in the last two or three pages and now I look back and think, "I am glad I read it." and only now do I realise what an excellent and expressive title Sadie Jones chose for her clever book. So, how many stars do I give....?
on 27 October 2014
I really enjoyed 'The Outcasts', and the subject matter and setting of 'Fallout' really appealed to me, so I was set to like it. And I did - but not nearly as much as I'd hoped.
'Fallout' is a story of Seventies theatre and a time when 'the arts' in England, and in London in particular, took one of those 'Brits leading the world' sort of turns. Theatre became more leading edge and political. Of course there were still revues and musicals, but there were exciting new theatres, new producers, new writers coming to the fore, on the back of the 'new wave' of the Sixties kitchen sink films and film-makers. 'Fallout' is not wholly about theatre, but there is a LOT of theatre in it. Sadie Jones has obviously done a huge amount of research and has a love of her subject. The problem is, that the research, the theatres and the politics and the insider jokes get far too much prominence in this novel, and that's what spoiled it for me.
Luke and Paul were great characters. They were great foils for each other, and their friendship was deep and utterly believable - so that when it went wrong, as it inevitably did, then you really felt for them. Nina, the cataclysmic catalyst, was a horror, but she was also a believable horror, and her marriage, which I'm pretty certain was a pastiche of a famous and real one, was wittily and bitterly drawn. She was meant to be hateful, and she was, though she was also pathetic. My problem was that I didn't hate her so much as didn't care what happened to her, and that meant I didn't much care for what happened with her relationship with Luke. I have this problem quite a lot with novels these days, so much that I wonder if it's just me - I don't dislike dislikeable characters, I feel indifferent to them, and it stops me wanting to find out what happened.
However, Sadie Jones writes a good story, and she writes really beautiful prose in places, so I did carry on, and ultimately I'm glad I did. The ending is satisfying. When the curtain comes down, I was glad I didn't leave in the interval. I just wish the third act had been cut a bit. But I will be reading her next one.