Oh boy - where to start?! Danielle Younge-Ullman's debut novel Falling Under grabs you from the first page and just doesn't let go until you reluctantly turn the last.
Falling Under opens with a gut-wrenching scene in which a little girl - Mara- witnesses the ugly end of her parent's marriage. And discovers that there is no Santa Claus.
Fast forward to the present. Mara is a grown woman now. She is an artist working from home - as she has trouble leaving the house. She imagines every bad thing that might happen and becomes paralyzed with fear. Her social circle is limited to her best friend Bernadette and her agent. Bernadette is active and outgoing, always involved in a social cause. Mara is one of her causes.
"Bernadette is saving the world. I can barely save myself".
She also has a love/hate relationship with Erik, her lover, who she only sees when she feels like she's on the edge of a precipice. Erik is emotionally damaged as well.
The story alternates between present and past. As young Mara grows older we learn more and more of how she came to be trapped in the small world she inhabits and why she is unable to function normally.
Younge-Ullman has uncannily captured the hurt, the betrayal, the angst and the despair of Mara. The descriptions and dialogues of her dysfunctional family and relationships are raw and unsettling.
Mara uses her body to please others and punish herself. While some readers may be disturbed by the sexual scenes, they are integral to the plot.
When Mara meets a man she thinks she can love, the two stories collide and we learn the full history behind Mara's inability to love and let herself be loved.
"Certain memories, certain thoughts, are holes....Holes ripped in you, through which precious things escape and leave you wanting, needing, gaping open......And you are left empty, a skeleton, a shell with wind rushing through you and a sensation of sinking, barely existing..."
No spoiler - but I loved the ending - it kept me thinking long after I finished reading.
Falling Under is a outstanding debut from this bright new Canadian author. This intense, edgy novel would generate lots of discussion for a book club.
Younge-Ullman is also part of a group of debut authors who regularly 'grog' (group blog) at The Debutante Ball.