Thursday, 19 November 2015

Emma's Guest Review: Kate Williams - The Edge of the Fall

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

In the aftermath of the Great War, the de Witt family are struggling to piece together the shattered fragments of their lives.

Rudolf and his wife Verena, still reeling from the loss of their second son, don't know how to function in the post-war world. Stoneythorpe Hall has become an empty shell with no servants to ensure its upkeep.

Celia, the de Witt's youngest daughter, is still desperate to spread her wings and see more of the world. To escape Stoneythorpe and the painful secrets that lie there, she moves to London and embraces life and love in the Roaring Twenties.

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The Edge of the Fall is the second in a planned trilogy from historian Kate Williams based on the De Witt family. I had only read the first in the series The Storms of War just a few months ago and reviewed it on the blog. I found the first book quite slow to get going but once it did I found it to be a brilliant read chronicling the fortunes of a family with German origins living in England during World War One. With The Edge of the Fall I had hoped the author would take us straight back to where we had left off before. All of the setting up was completed with the long introduction in book one so fingers crossed this next instalment would take us straight to the heart of the roaring twenties. 

This book proved to be the opposite to the first as the beginning and end were fast paced and packed full of things happen but the middle took a real dip and at times became repetitive and needed something to get it moving on again. That said I did enjoy this book, the prologue did grab my attention as there is mention of a man living in Paris but recently returned to England with his new love. Was this more to come of Arthur De Witt who barely got a mention in the previous novel? I hoped it was as it was obvious there was a story waiting to be told concerning his fortunes during and after the war.

When we reunite with the De Witt family they are not the same as they once had been. War like for so many other families has torn them apart but yet they are doing the best they can to piece themselves and the family home Stoneythorpe back together. The house feels old and tarnished and its residents feel the same. Peace had been so longed for but now that it is here what do they do? How can they carry after such a great loss? How can a family so beset by tragedy pick themselves up and begin again? Rudolf - patriarch of the family is broken both mentally and physically after what he has endured whilst matriarch Verena can barely hold herself together not to mention deal with a house run by a skeleton staff 'It was as if the war had aged everything, dirtied it all, however much you hid things away'. Celia although young and naive in book one has been through an awful lot and to me she really is the glue that holds the family together. Still single and always on the lookout for the man of her dreams her ambitions had been put on the back burner as war raged on but now that it has ended she feels lost and adrift. 'It was her, marooned and alone in Stoneythorpe while everybody was out there living'. Stoneythorpe is not the place she grew up in, older sister Emmeline now has her own young family to deal with. Not to mention husband out at all hours of the day fighting for his causes. So who can Celia turn to? Well in steps brother Arthur returning from Paris after the war? Are the families fortunes about to change? Will Celia gain the independence and freedom she craves?

I was so glad to see Arthur playing a more prominent role in this book. He had fleeting mentions in the previous novel but you did get a sense that he was an enigma, that he seemed to have some hold over the family and they all held him in awe and now that he has returned and may make a go of the family business things may just be ok. What frustrated me about Arthur was he never came home to his family during the war nor did he enlist. I'm sure he didn't enjoy a playboy lifestyle in Paris during the war years but to me he seemed to get off lightly compared to his brother. Verena held him in such respect and never questioned his actions when that would have been the first thing I would have done. Arthur is clearly different from his other family members, he is headstrong and always get what he wants. With the arrival of cousin Louisa to the family fold after her mothers death a spark is ignited within the household. Celia hopes for a friend but Arthur has other ideas. Louisa was a great addition to the overall storyline. Arthur seemed to take her over despite her being so young and to be honest it was just creepy and controlling. What happens next sets the tone for the remainder of the book as a further deep shadow hangs over the family and plenty of questions needed to be answered.

When we do read of Louisa's viewpoint it appears all is not as it seems with her  'friendship' with Arthur. Two questions struck me regarding this, why bring us further into the story only for part two to bring us back in time? Secondly wouldn't it have worked better to intersperse Louisa's viewpoint and story amongst the chapters of part one instead of reading continuously of Celia as parts of her story were flat and monotonous as she appeared to be endlessly lost in a cycle of confusion. Also a few chapters from Arthur's viewpoint would have been nice and might have gone some way towards changing my opinion of him. Even at the end I still wasn't sure what to make of him. As I have mentioned the middle of the book was the weakest for me there was far too much focus on Celia where she actually didn't do much expect mope and wonder what was she going to do with her life. Emmeline didn't want her although when giving birth she didn't say no to Celia's support.These scenes were brilliantly written and had my heart in my mouth as to the outcome. A change of scenery visiting her German relatives in the Black Forest started out good as Celia sees the German people still view the English as their enemy but apart from a trip to a spa town that descends into chaos and a surprising visitor this section all just fell a bit flat. Towards the end though things did pick up and I was glad to see Celia coming to the forefront even what did happen wasn't just or fair.

The Edge of the Fall didn't grab me the way it should have mostly because I think it was too long, it could have been shortened and have had more of an impact. It was enjoyable enough and yes it was really interesting to read of life after the war to end all wars as most often books focus on events during the war. It's plain to see that life didn't and couldn't possibly revert back to normal for all involved and that the impact would be felt for many years to come. Did I get the sense of the roaring twenties I had wished for? Sadly not because with the De Witt family things just aren't going all that well. This book isn't full of the glamour of the music, fashions and styles of the twenties because frankly the family are not in that frame of mind with so many things ongoing. I'm still rooting for them though and after reading the final two chapters Kate Williams has really set us up nicely for what is to come in the concluding instalment as within the last few pages a jaw dropping revelation became clear and the reader was left hanging on a thread. 

The Edge of the Fall is a good enough read but I do think if you just picked this up without having read the first book you would be a little lost and maybe not appreciate certain characters or situations. Do read The Storms of War first and then give this a go.  It may not be the highlight of my reading year but the De Witt family have enough going on to make me want to return for part three next year.

I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing The Edge of the Fall which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.

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