Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing

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Kate, a waitress who was told to self-isolate in November last year, has to look after her son Matt during their days of mandatory self-isolation. Anguished by house arrest and realizing the futility of the rules she was supporting in theory
but cannot follow in practice, she leaves the house for a night walk on the nearby hills, left deserted in the
winter darkness.

Matt, upstairs and playing, is unaware of his mother’s excursion. Only Alice, their kind elderly neighbor, sees her go. Tripping on a rock in the hills, Kate is badly injured in the dark cold of the night, her son waiting alone as police helicopters try to find her.

The most rewarding parts of the novel lie in Kate and Alice’s internal monologues as they contemplate the futility of their situations: Alice in her family comfort worrying about the madness of a society that locks itself in for supposed profit of people like her, and Kate torn apart by a conflicted spirit as she breaks rule after rule as she seeks freedom over the hills.

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The lockdown has given plenty of room for many of us to wallow in self-pity, but The fell is never complacent – there are no sanctimonious reminders of moral responsibility, only a distinct human sensibility that is far more valuable than any chart, prediction or command.

I can’t tell if JJ Bola is The selfless act of breathing affirms life or not, given that its subject is a young man’s contemplation of life and its loss. Possessing a bold turn of phrase and at times a beautifully powerful sense of personal emotion, this largely first-person novel is not just about the people society too often ignores, but also about the feelings and frustrations we try also to repress.

While not a flawless book, it is a book that should be put into the hands of friends with the question: do you feel that way too?

Patrick Maxwell is a writer and journalist.


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Alycia R. Lindley