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Colin Thubron: Falling

Mark Swabey is a journalist and, at the start of the novel, he is going to prison though we do not yet know why. Mark is in love with two women – Katherine, the stained-glass artist, is his first love. However, when he goes to a circus to write a newspaper report, he sees Clara, the trapeze artist, The Swallow, as she is called. He goes to interview her, finding her act one of the few interesting parts of the circus performance. However, he is curiously fascinated by her and goes back, ostensibly to write a feature article about her. They soon fall in love and start an affair, though his relationship with Katherine continues but there is no doubt that Clara is the one. When she falls off her trapeze and is paralysed from the neck down, he learns that she may survive – miserably – for another two or three years. She does not want that so, at her behest, he kills her. We only find this out at the end of the book, though we have learned that he killed her, without knowing why.

Most of the book is taken up with his two relationships – and the marked contrast between the circus girl and the well-educated stained-glass artist – and his time in prison. And, of course, he plays out the suspense, as we wonder why he could kill the woman he so obviously loved (jealousy, perhaps?) But, for me, the main interest was in the comparison between the two women and his relationship with the two of them which Thubron handles masterfully, though clearly favouring the enigmatic and unsophisticated Clara over the educated and sophisticated Katherine.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Heinemann