Disclosure: I received this book for free as an advanced copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Entertaining, well-written, and a whole lot of confusing fun, The Beautiful Fall was a pleasure to read. Coming off from a litany of non-fiction books, this return to fiction sucked me in upon the first sentence. No, literally. Check the book’s description and see what I mean—it quite literally pulls you in, practically compelling you to read more to satisfy your curiosity. Intrigue and interest go hand in hand in this one.
This story is centered around Robert Penfold, a 31-year old recluse with a neurological condition that causes him to forget his identity approximately every 179 days (“the forgetting”) and his highly regimented life. Rigorous exercise every morning. The same basic meals every day. Not a soul to talk to. Oh, and a strenuous project involving dominoes that he devotes his life purpose to.
Enter Julie: the woman who upends—through sheer force of her own will—Robbie’s carefully crafted life, just twelve days before his next forgetting. Within just days of meeting her, he’s noticing parts of the newest version of himself he’s never seen before, feeling things he’s sure he’s never felt before—or at least, this version of him. As she becomes further enmeshed into his life, Robbie’s forced to confront the growing disparity between his current comfortable existence and his future, vulnerable self, who needs his strict lifestyle more than anything, and the fact that his past self might not be who he thought. When Julie reveals a world-turning secret, it might just threaten to implode the sure, but temporary, self-identity he’s fought so hard to build.
Easily one of the most creative storylines I’ve encountered, I was intrigued by this book from the beginning. What caused Robbie’s bizarre neurological condition? How did he survive each forgetting? What does he do—what can he do—in the sixth short months before each episode? All these questions and more kept me reading.
The entire book happens in the span of the twelve days that remain before Robbie’s next forgetting, adding an element of impending doom to the whole book and making the plot seem that much more urgent. We watch as Robbie tries desperately to avoid Julie as much as possible, knowing the adoption of a friend, much less a girlfriend, could endanger his future self and rob him of the chance to form his own identity, independent of the influence of others.
One of my favorite elements of this read was the engaging writing of Robert’s inner dialogue. The book is written entirely in the first person, and I felt like I was experiencing Robert’s thoughts as he thought them, as if his narration made me a part of his own brain. A perfect literary choice, as it allowed me to understand the astute observation and self-awareness that caused Robbie to construct such an isolated life, and the mantra he repeats to ensure he never loses control of himself again. Keep to yourself to keep yourself.
Although I loved the urgency of knowing Robbie only had twelve days to prepare his current self, shut down his attraction to Julie, and come to terms with his past self, I would have liked to see the fruit of that effort and be privy to what happened after day zero. The ending felt rather abrupt and too cleanly concluded, and left me feeling a bit bereft with much to be desired. Reading the story was almost like riding a rollercoaster: cruising placidly along with a few chapters and suddenly plunging sharply down into a series of deliciously unexpected events…only to suddenly end.
In his first novel, I found Hugh Breakey’s writing to be compelling and a fresh fiction voice, transporting me to the beautiful shores of Melbourne and introducing me to one of Australia’s most beloved cities with this most bizarre tale. He managed to take what sounds like a set up for the newest dystopian thriller to an at-once charming, emotionally moving real-life romance of a couple who got dealt some pretty awful cards. With Breakey’s background in ethics and philosophy, Robbie’s fear at letting another person mold his identity and self-regard to their own preferences—even a woman he feels strangely drawn to—suddenly makes sense.
Love It or Leave It?
Disappointment with the timing aside, this book is a page-turner and very fun to read. A great combination of riveting and thought-provoking, this is a read sure to keep you on your toes until the very last page. If you’re looking for a light but realistic read, this one is for you.