Les Zig’s August Falling starts with a blunt assertion, ‘This is not a love story’. So, right from the get-go a warning not to expect an uplifting story where love conquers all, or even a little as it happens. While I applaud Mr Zig’s authorial honesty, that opening line had me reaching for the Rescue Remedy.
I waded warily into this book because stories of personal desperation aren’t exactly at the top of my fiction reading list. God knows, there’s enough of that on show every day in real life. Frankly, I thought the story of August and his contiguous falling, no matter how well written, may not peak my curiosity enough to keep me reading. Within a few pages, though, I knew I was wrong.
August is recovering from a bad relationship. He’s also writing a book which he just can’t seem to finish. He lives in a dingy suburban flat, takes a train to his call-centre workplace and goes to lunch at the same café every day. Here he spots Julie, a pretty girl with an indeterminate tattoo. August fantasises about approaching her, swaying between plucking up the courage and dismissing the idea because he believes he’s a loser. But with a little help from his protective older sister, Gen, he eventually makes his move on Julie and oddly, she doesn’t run screaming from the café.
As a promising relationship between August and Julie develops I recalled the ‘this is not a love story’ intro and wondered if I’d been had.Likewise with the devotion and care Gen demonstrates for her bother – daily check-ins on his mobile and calling his ex ‘that c*nt Lisa’ as a validation of his pain and betrayal. To be fair, after the statement about August Falling not being a story about love, Zig goes onto say that the book ‘involves love, and things related to love’ but the story is not neat nor easy nor straightforward. That’s certainly true.
In my humble opinion, the genius of this work is its hybrid nature. August Falling is a cross between the (1) the ordinary and the offbeat…
‘I drift in and out of sleep until my alarm buzzes, and after I pack the last quarter of my book into the satchel Julie brought for me, it’s back to my normal routine, although there are a few examples of extravagant behaviour – singing in the shower, flipping my omelette in the frying pan, and even a twirl when I lock up and head for the station, satchel wedged under my arm. I know I’m being stupid but sometimes, it’s nice to be stupid.’
(2) the mundane with the lyrical - like this evocative description of waiting for the train home after work…
‘Commuters pack the platform until we’re a singular consciousness of fatigue and resignation. When the 5.13 rolls up, we spill into the carriages, and flood the seats’
and (3) the uplifting and the down-to-earth…
‘She regards me as if I’m somebody, which makes me feel a fraud but I squelch the thought and appreciate the feeling for what it is. I am somebody…I’m me. And there’s nothing wrong with that.’
Les Zig adroitly meters out August’s story in coffee spoons. We know he’s had a very bad relationship experience, but not how bad nor how he’s reacted to it. We’re voyeurs in August’s head, seeing his life and world through his eyes, albeit through the night-vision goggles of his self-denigrating, second-guessing stream of consciousness.
Mr Zig writes anxiety well – excruciatingly well and yet somehow, August Falling is not the depressive cringe-fest I feared it might be.And the author was right in that intro. August Falling is not a story about love, nor is it one of redemption or arrival either. It’s a story of incremental self-acceptance - so incremental it’s barely noticeable until one day, things just seem clearer and more hopeful somehow.
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