Before the Fall
Before the Fall is the debut novel by Juliet West, inspired by real events in London during the First World War. It was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions novel writing competition in 2012, and it is extremely easy to see why.
In 1916, Hannah Loxwood’s husband joins the fighting overseas, leaving her to struggle on in London’s East End with her two small children, and a whole host of other family problems. When she takes a job in a café, it not only provides her with welcome income and respite, but she meets Daniel Blake, an intelligent, working class loner, controversially exempt from active service. Their love flourishes amid war-torn surroundings, and the constant threat of call-up forces them to take their destiny into their own hands.
West has produced an incredible debut novel in which the central love story is enveloped in a superbly drawn East End ripped apart, both literally and emotionally, by the First World War. The characters, from the major protagonists to the most minor of players, are portrayed with such realism, detail and empathy that it is immensely easy to step into the world of this novel. Believe me when I say that this story, and its heart-wrenching conclusion, will continue to haunt the reader, long after the last page has been read.
This was undoubtedly the best novel I have read this year, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes their historical fiction on the literary side. I also challenge you to read it without needing a hankie! If this is the kind of writing we can expect from West, then I look forward with anticipation to more of her work.