Lex Coulton: Falling Short
Published By: John Murray
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
A remarkable book: warm, moving and very funny (Jess Kidd)
Taking up the mantle of acute, humane observation from Muriel Spark, Falling Short is funny, engaging and beautifully written. A really refreshing read (M. L. Stedman)
A remarkable book: warm, moving and very funny
Taking up the mantle of acute, humane observation from Muriel Spark, Falling Short is funny, engaging and beautifully written. A really refreshing read
A witty, charming and moving novel about finding things where you least expect them
About the Author
Lex Coulton studied English and later creative writing at Oxford. She spent fourteen years teaching English in secondary schools before taking a sabbatical year in Paris, to focus on her writing. Lex grew up in Herefordshire, and has recently returned to live there with her husband, John, and their dogs Bazil and Sadie.
What I Say:
Thank you to John Murray who sent me a copy of Lex’s novel, and it was so good, that I decided I had to write this blog post to tell everyone about it!
I had seen Falling Short talked about a lot on social media, and knew that it would be the sort of book that I would really enjoy – and I was right!
Frances Pilgrim is thirty-nine, teaching Shakespeare to sixth formers and has fallen out with her best friend, Jackson, who also teaches at the school. As well as having to deal with the daily grind of being an adult in a world where you have to keep going because you can’t stop, Frances’ Mum is behaving in an increasingly erratic way as she battles Alzheimer’s.
Frances is an only child, and has always believed that her father disappeared at sea when she was five years old, and she is now having to juggle her professional life with the increasing demands of her personal one.
Falling Short eloquently shows how the cared for becomes the carer, an issue so many of us can relate to, and like Frances, we don’t just live around the corner from our parents. Frances’ days are filled with numerous demands and pressures, trying to ensure she can maintain her professional reputation at school, whilst at the same time shuttling back and forth between her flat and her mother’s home as her mental health deteriorates.
Jackson is back in the UK, after having spent some time away in South Africa – the country where he grew up. As the novel progresses, we learn exactly why Jackson had to leave the country so quickly, and why he is now sliding towards retirement in a school which seems to irritate him in every way. His relationship history is, to be diplomatic, a rather colourful one, and he still has a reluctance to settle down. Jackson seems at odds with the world, around him and simply wants an easy life. He attends training sessions with the weary resignation of someone who has seen it all before and knows that fancy ideology does not work when you are at the coalface on a day-to-day basis.
Frances and Jackson have been great friends, but one night when the line is crossed, and they spend the night together, everything changes. Frances distances herself from Jackson, and as she spurns his attempts to contact her, the friendship lies in tatters. What Lex does in an understated way throughout Falling Short is to make it obvious to us that Frances and Jackson are in love, and that they are the only ones who cannot see it.
All through the novel, I was willing one of them to make the first move, as they circle around each other, never quite getting close enough to say the right thing. As they have to work together at school, you can really feel the unease and awkwardness between them as they try to professionally co-exist in an environment which throws them together constantly.
What elevates Falling Short for me, is the revelation that sends Frances off on a road trip like no other. Her mum lets slip that her father did not pass away, and Jean, the neighbour who treats Frances like one of her own, confirms it.
Everything Frances has ever believed about her father and mother has been turned on its head, and now she has to decide whether she wants to take a chance and make contact with him. Frances and her dog (brilliantly called Dog!) embark on a road trip to Yorkshire to discover the truth, to find her Dad, and Frances’ place in the world. When Jackson and her friend Silv, discover what she is up to, and are unable to contact her, they too make the rash decision to follow her and for Jackson, he slowly realises what we knew all along, that he is in love with Frances.
I am of course, not going to give away what happens when Frances arrives at her father’s house, but the way in which the closing chapters of the novel use of the harshness and energy of the landscape are all-encompassing and powerful, as they seep out of the pages and into our desire to see Frances finally find the happiness and resolution she craves.
Falling Short is a stunning debut novel full of flawed, relatable characters, who flail around trying to make sense of each other and the world around them. However, this is one of the many brilliant and endearing things about the novel – that for a change, our heroine and hero are not perfect, tee total, whip smart, organic vegetable eating, clean living yoga buddies. They are just like us – getting through every day in the best way they can, and I loved them all the more for it.
I loved it.