I requested Fear of Falling from NetGalley on the basis that it was by Cath Staincliffe, knowing nothing about the plot, so started reading with very little if any idea of what to expect. This made it perhaps even more hard hitting than it would have been anyway.
It starts with narrator Lydia, a teenager in the 1980s, meeting and being instantly fascinated by the reckless Bel - their friendship is a thread which runs through the whole book, following Lydia’s life from the ‘80s to the present day... work, relationships, marriage to the lovely Mac, fertility troubles and ultimately their adoption of Chloe, a neglected toddler born to a drug-using young mother. Chloe’s early life experiences have not been good, but she’s young enough, surely, for that damage to be repaired, given enough love and care. Isn’t she?
Lydia, a scientist, and her tattooist husband Mac are wonderful characters and clearly marvellous parents who are devoted to giving Chloe a happy life. There are no limits to their love. But sometimes, any amount of love might not be enough.
The adjective in my mind while reading was “unflinching”. The author pulls no punches in depicting the pain and difficulty of life with Chloe, a girl who fundamentally doesn’t believe she deserves to be loved. There are no easy answers or Hollywood endings to be found here. I couldn’t imagine how it was all going to end, and I could never have imagined how it actually did.
Some powerful themes emerge, particularly the need for better support when things are impossibly hard, but also the importance and lasting impact of the earliest experiences (according to Erikson’s theory, a time when a child learns basic trust or mistrust: that her cries will be responded to and her needs met, that her world is a safe place.... or that it isn’t). While we see things only from Lydia’s viewpoint, the story is told with huge compassion for everyone involved.
It could be viewed as a cautionary tale about the perils of adoption, but that is clearly far from the intention. In a postscript to the novel, Cath Staincliffe tells us that she was herself adopted as a baby, so clearly she has a personal insight and connection to the subject, although her story is (thankfully) very different from Chloe’s. And Cath is at pains to point out that most adoptions work well and very few adopters ever regret their decision.
A wonderful, heartbreaking book, highly recommended.