Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the author in exchange for an objective review.
A Falling Body is the story of a young Englishwoman, Andrea Williams, who agrees to a technological implant which allows wealthy, aged, and infirm businessman, Claude LeGrande, near total access to her thoughts, sensory experiences, and emotions. The arrangement quickly veers from Andrea’s expectations, and she finds herself over her head in dangerous waters. It becomes evident that LeGrande can not only read her thoughts and anticipate her moves, he also has the power to influence her circumstances from outside. She struggles to extricate herself, in vain it seems, as events confine her options to an increasingly limited range of possibilities.
This narrative started out slow for me. There was too much explanation of the setup, not the technicalities specifically, but the inner landscape, the milieu in Andrea’s head, which the technology created. I was tempted to put the book down several places in the first third of the story because it was just boring. I pressed on, though, because I’d made a commitment. Maybe this was easier for me than for most because I had a long career in public accounting in which I had to read a lot of tax code. I am innurred somewhat to tedium. Good thing I kept at it. When it was finally revealed what LeGrande’s true intentions are with respect to Andrea, things got interesting for me and the narrative tension began to rise at an accelerating pace. By the time I’d got to the end, I thought the initial tedium was, if not strictly necessary, at least a useful structural underpinning that made an unlikely futuristic premise entirely plausible and immediate.
This book is written to a high level of intelligence. The prose is occasionally ponderous and the vocabulary extensive. I found a dictionary helpful, although not necessary, to my understanding of the text. I would call the writing proficient, even highly so, but not beautiful. It is not poetic or evocative. It is not replete with similes and word choices that make the reader feel he or she is witness to great literature. Neither is it intrusive. It is, in the final analysis, just what it needs to be to propel the action of a techno-thriller. It is precise.
I found the characters a bit shallow. I think this was probably intentional on the author’s part. We spend almost the entire book inside Andrea’s head. She acts, reacts, emotes, and decides things based on the stimuli presented. Given the premise and the course of the narrative, I think a lot of depth of character and explanatory back story would only intrude on the story arc. This is not a character driven novel, even though a vast amount of it is internalized.
In the end it is very like a really involved interactive video game seen through the eyes of a character whose identity we assume for the duration. As such it is an immersive experience. Character, such as it is, is at least in part dependent on and imbued by the reader. If this was intentional, and I believe it was, it is brilliant and brilliantly done. For this reason alone, I am giving A Falling Body a 5 star rating. It is easily the most innovative and creative book I have read in some time, especially from what appears to be an independent publisher.
At the end of the narrative proper, you will find an afterward and three appendices. Do not skip these. They are an important part of the story, fill in some important gaps, and explain everything you will find troubling to that point. I was disappointed in the ending until I read the last of these. Then I was enthusiastic about everything that had gone before and suffused with admiration for Kermod for pulling this off. This is an ambitious work that will reward the determined reader with wonder and surprise.
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