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Falling Animals: A BBC 2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick

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But by a third of the way in a delicately woven structure appeared and I was caught up in the achingly human lives of Armstrong's characters. She is the author of two books: How To Gut A Fish (2022), a collection of short stories, and Falling Animals (2023), her debut novel. The protagonists include: a man collecting the dead body of a seal; the woman who finds the body; the pathologist that examines it – and later her daughter; an artist suffering with MS and earlier her son – who also saw the man; the bus driver who drove the man to the town; a refugee who takes the man’s backpack where he had discarded it; a Filipino seaman on the skeleton staffed ship which wrecked; the galley cook on the ship – who ends up running the café in the town; the boy who started the fire accidentally – in a panic after seeing an apparent person on the wreck (which he keeps secret); a diver who investigates the wreck for salvage photos and also panics – this time seeing bones (which again he does not mention); a Colombian who now runs the town’s bar – his lover the man who as a boy set the wreck on fire (a secret he keeps until a painting the artist makes uncovers his memories); a woman who claims the dead man is her husband; a Guard (policeman) who is involved with much of this; a priest at an Australian seafearers mission who encounters someone we realise is the man who decides, very ill, to set out for Ireland having seen a picture of the wreck; a man serving on a gunship protecting Icelandic ships in the cod wars. Some of us leapt overboard, iron shackles around our ankles, rather than become slaves to heartless men. Each of the chapters did an excellent job of fully realising the different perspectives of the villagers.

Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy via NetGalley; as always, this is an honest review. People live in each other’s shadow; we must shelter each other rather than live alone and suffer in pride.

Despite glowing reviews from GR readers I follow, I was hesitant to pick up this debut novel by Sheila Armstrong, for no other reason than she is Irish. It is a novel of rare artistry and elegance, a really unique and sublime experience, one not to be missed!

Through their connections we come to understand the layers on which a community is built, and how far reaching that connectedness is, in terms of miles, but also of time, how life is some circumstances can be valued so much, and in others is worthless. Sheila Armstrong is in love with the world and its people, and that love shines out clearly in this luminous novel; a novel built on the stories of one small village, shaken loose when a body falls unannounced on the beach. Each of their narratives are satisfyingly rounded out with the narrators’ own backstories: some are villagers born and bred like Oona, others are blow-ins like Matias who left his Bogota home aged sixteen. Frank, die dicht bij het lijk kwam maar niets gezien heeft, vertelt over het opruimen van de kadavers van zeehonden op het strand. Featuring a number of different characters, each chapter is from a different viewpoint as lives intersect like a spider’s web, crossing back and forth, with a staggering attention to detail and an astonishing structure.The next morning, the sea is flat and cool, like a drunk embarrassed by his antics the night before. The story is set in a small Irish coastal town where a man is found dead on a beach, sitting upright and cross-legged, with not a shred of identity on him. We get to see these characters and their hopes, dreams and desires told on the page in a way that makes them perfectly human. In Falling Animals, Sheila Armstrong imagines a fictional account of this man’s story, told from the points of view of the villagers who came into contact with him in his final days. The haunting story of an unidentified man, told by those who crossed paths with him on the last day of his life, Sheila Armstrong's debut novel is lyrical and darkly suspenseful --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

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