At first glance, Nicola Moriarty’s debut novel Free-Falling looks like a tear-jerker. It opens with Belinda, off to buy a puppy, to fill the hole in her life left by her fiancÃ© Andy who – it seems – has died. There is some mystery about how exactly he has died, which makes for an interesting diversion later in the novel, but ultimately the story of Andy’s death is not so much about him, but about who he leaves behind.
In this case, Andy is survived by his twin brother James, his fiancÃ©e Belinda, and his mother Evelyn, as well as a host of friends and colleagues. The story really is about Evelyn and Belinda, and how their relationship is damaged by Andy’s death. The damage is primarily caused when Evelyn publicly blames Belinda for Andy’s death – at the funeral – and it seems the two women will not be reconciled any time soon. Evelyn’s progression through the textbook stages of grief seems to be permanently halted at anger. She even ends up being so angry with herself, her surviving son and her dead son’s fiancÃ©e that she takes up skydiving as a means to escape, perhaps permanently. Luckily her skydiving instructor, Bazza, is an amateur psychologist and he finds his way to what Evelyn is hiding and forces her to confront her feelings.
Belinda, on the other hand, thinks she is not alone despite Andy’s death. She feels his presence watching over her, and when mysterious gifts appear on her doorstep she cannot shake the feeling that he is haunting her. It’s no surprise then that she isolates herself from the mates she and Andy shared, she hides away from the world and tries to sink herself into her work and studying. However the world cannot be kept out forever and she too finds that she is forced to confront her feelings by someone unexpected.
Though the novel primarily deals with grief, and how different people handle it, it never really came to the point of bringing a tear to my eyes. This is despite the funeral, the tears, the anger and the reconciliations. It is a touching, thoughtful story, and the main feeling that I am left with, is a resolve to be more compassionate if I find myself in the position of support, friend, confidante, to a person struggling through their own grieving process.
Available now: Random House RRP$32.95