Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Book Review: BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall

Before the Fall
Author: Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Read: June 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My thoughts:

A plane crashes between Martha’s Vineyard and New York with 11 people on board, killing all passengers and crew except Scott Burroughs, an ex-alcoholic artist, who manages to swim for hours through shark infested waters carrying the only other survivor, 4 year-old JJ, son of the rich couple who originally chartered the plane. In the aftermath of the disaster, whilst authorities are investigating the cause of the crash, reclusive Scott comes under the cross-fire of a high-profile journalist, who questions the reason Scott was on the plane in the first place. Is he a hero who has saved a young boy’s life, or is he somehow involved in the cause of the crash? In the current climate of terrorism and in the view of the other passengers’ wealth and position, there is no limit as to how far the press will go in speculating about Scott’s involvement in the disaster. Villain or hero? Friend or foe? Scott realises that no good deed stays unpunished, and that he has long lost his right to privacy and fair play.

Before the Fall was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Initially drawn in by the character of Scott and the events of the crash and his subsequent fight for survival, I found some of the chapters exploring the lives of the less-enigmatic and somewhat clichéd group of passengers much less compelling. However, I found Scott Burroughs to be a brilliant character with just the right mix of flaws, a troubled mysterious past and a personality torn by internal conflict – so when the focus returned to him I was instantly hooked again.

As the author slowly unveils each of the passengers’ and crew’s lives leading up to the crash, the reader is left wondering as to what actually happened that fateful day. Was one of the passengers a terrorist target? Or was it a technology problem? Since plane crashes seem to be one of the things feared by most people (as are shark attacks, thus the breath taking moment when Scott encounters one on his epic swim), the hackles rise as the author evokes the final scenes of the fateful flight. I especially loved the way the author describes the aftermath of the crash, as Scott, the reluctant hero, is being mercilessly hounded by the press, losing all rights for privacy and a fair hearing to the point of having to go into hiding to escape the endless speculations about his involvement. I found this part of the book shocking and eye opening, how much power of the media has to influence people’s perceptions and twist facts to suit their purpose. This was brilliantly executed by the author, and made the whole read worthwhile – I was fully in Scott’s court, and eagerly read on to find out the explanation to the mystery.

All in all, After the Fall was a worthwhile read for me, despite the initial slow start. However, I would not call it a thriller, more of a slowly unravelling mystery, and if you are looking for a fast-paced roller-coaster ride, this is probably not the right book for you. But whilst some readers seem to resent the ending, I thought it was not implausible and it worked for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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