Fallout tells the story of a group of characters involved in the London theatre scene in the 1970s. It centres around two people, Luke Kanowski and Nina Hollings.
Luke is from a working-class immigrant background. He lives with his father, Tomasz. His mother has been in the insane asylum in his home town of Seston, Nottinghamshire for most of Luke’s life. While his sixth-form classmates go into town, Luke visits her.
The headmaster had said, Some of you boys will be invited to stay on for the Oxbridge term…
Luke knew that he was one of them. That despite his poverty, his questionable background, foreign parentage and suspected Judaism; despite his excess energy and chaotic attention, his faculty had been greedily noted.
But no one visits Luke’s mother bar him and when the choice has to be made, he finds he can’t leave. He goes to work at the paper mill instead. However, a chance meeting with Leigh Radley and Paul Driscoll, who introduces himself as a theatre producer makes Luke evaluate his life:
The silent town lay stagnant around him and Luke Kanowski realised that his life was harming him.
Luke leaves for London with dreams of becoming a playwright.
Nina’s brought up by her aunt, while her mother attempts to make it as an actress. Early in the novel, Marianne decides to claim Nina again and lures her from her aunt’s with talk of Paris. Paris doesn’t happen. Marianne gets a part in a play in London and mother and daughter stay living in Marianne’s dingy London flat. Nina attends LAMDA and begins to make her way as an actress. However, she soon learns that it’s often more about whom you’re sleeping with than how talented you are.
Initially, the story moves between Luke’s story and circle of friends and Nina’s life, which is more isolated than Luke’s whilst appearing to be wonderful and glamorous. Eventually the two tales become intertwined on personal and professional levels.
The narrative drive of Fallout comes from three areas of tension: class – can the likes of Luke make it in Nina’s world? Work – are any of them built to survive in the theatrical world? Relationships – can friendships survive love affairs?
The novel’s an engaging piece of work. Although there are themes Jones has explored in her previous novels – class, relationships, mental illness, women – the novel’s larger in scope and setting and this results in the characters feeling like more fully rounded human beings.
I think Fallout will divide people; I suspect there are fans of The Outcast and Small Wars, in particular, who will find this sprawling and less concentrated in terms of themes and settings. Personally, I think this is a mature, thoughtful novel and Jones’ best work yet.
Thanks to Chatto and Windus for the review copy.