The Fall of Thomas G.
A rich novel about freedom of speech, social media, racism, parenting, old age, marriage and love
What do you do when after years of marriage your husband turns out to be a complete stranger? And how do you react when, to make matters worse, he – an experienced publisher – brings out a deeply problematic book, only to then die under mysterious circumstances? That’s what happens to Isa, the protagonist in Nelleke Noordervliet’s The Fall of Thomas G.
Isa, an author of children’s books, has retreated to her cottage in rural Ireland. From this refuge on the edge of the continent, she tries to understand what has happened and what she has failed to notice all these years – and she tries to get her life back on track.
But that proves challenging: her daughter, Leonie, becomes obsessed with the whole affair and invites herself over. Isa’s son also wants to get to the bottom of what happened, and a journalist looking to get the scoop on the scandal gets in touch with the people involved. And then there’s the manuscript her husband left her, in which he reveals his secret.
Bit by bit, this intricately structured novel tells us more about the person at the centre of all the controversy: publisher Thomas Geel. Noordervliet alternates between Isa’s perspective and those of her son and daughter, and Thomas’ former colleague also gets to present her take on things. The key question is why he decided to publish a conservative pamphlet titled Contemporary Fanaticism, a hotchpotch of all the problematic ‘-isms’ of our time, causing a massive scandal.
Once again Noordervliet expertly and grippingly tackles controversial and timely issues such as fanaticism, diversity, inclusiveness and feminism, interweaving them with timeless literary themes – a difficult mother-daughter relationship, love and death, good and evil.
Noordervliet is a consummate storyteller. Like A.S. Byatt, time and again she vividly depicts the context and the period in which the story is set; she shares Benoîte Groult’s interest in exploring a female perspective, and just like the Danish writer Jens Christian Grøndahl she offers a brilliant psychological portrait of a family that’s been ripped apart.