Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: If It Falls

If It Falls
Naomi Young

Published by Discovered Authors

Reviewed by Liam Tullberg


If It Falls is the debut novel by Naomi Young, the Cambridge - based editor of the literary magazine Velvet.

It’s a story about trust that questions how well we can ever know the motives of others and, based on heinous true events, follows Raphael Sifuentes, an ex-guerrilla journalist who’s brimming with guilt and sorrow after his wife, Lidia, and young son, Benigno, were killed during the Guatemalan civil war.

Left emotionally detached after the deaths of those closest to him, Rafael becomes involved with Dolores Rodriguez, (Lola) whom he meets in a café and almost seems to have sought him out. The relationship is one in which Rafael never quite seems committed, but instead a man going through the motions of love or, perhaps more accurately, lust.

When local Pastor Rev. Manuel Chavez, a martyr for justice, is murdered, Rafael is sent to investigate the man’s death, a quest that soon leads him on a trail of deception and lies.

It’s not until Lola is murdered that Rafael fears he may be close to uncovering some shocking truths about a corrupt Colonel Lopez and realises that his own sanity and safety are at risk. Not least because Josue Chan, who Rafael meets before identifying Lola’s body, claims to be Lola’s fiancé. It’s here that the novel reaches its pivotal and most intriguing point as questions begin to circle in Rafael’s mind, not least if Lola was who she claimed to herself to be. And just who exactly is Josue?

If It Falls soon becomes a gripping page turner with each challenge that Rafael faces introducing him to characters he doesn’t know if he can trust. Using timely cliff hangers and well placed hooks, the story whips by quickly and it’s not until the last few pages that any denouement is offered to the reader.

What makes If It Falls such a good read is the fact that the narrative is so contained within Rafael’s mind and thoughts, that, in parts, it’s almost as if it’s written via first-person point of view as opposed to third. Readers are in Rafael’s mindset for every step of his journey and as a result can sympathise with the situation in which he’s embroiled.

However, this ‘up close’ focus can at times feel a little claustrophobic with an over-reliance on internal monologues and rhetorical questions. There are a few points in which it’s easy to forget where scenes are taking place since the focus falls heavily on dialogue. That said, Young’s use of dialogue is excellent and the many characters interact well together. The scenes between Rafael and Lola and, later, her sister, are exceptionally strong, particularly towards the end of the novel.

While If It Falls follows a typical character and story arc in some senses, Young offers no happy ending or ‘elixir’, a sentiment that resounds with her chilling epilogue. Rafael may have learnt a great deal about himself and his ability to trust, but at what cost?

This is a strong novel that reflects the troubled minds in a country at war and asks readers to imagine the unimaginable when it comes to seeking justice. It’s perhaps not just the story of one man, but that of many in a time in history that should never be repeated.


Liam Tullberg is a Bristol-based author currently working on his novel, From the Darkness, and can be contacted through www.liamtullberg.com

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