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Part love story, part mystery, all set within the cloistered world of an elite coed boarding school, Colin McAdam’s Fall is the psychologically gripping story of two roommates and what happens when the girlfriend of one of them goes missing. Written with McAdam’s electric talent for language and an uncanny ear for the way teenagers think and communicate, it goes deep into the heads of two very different teens—one cerebral, the other pure id—to craft a literary page-turner.
ABOUT COLIN MCADAM
Colin McAdam is the author of Some Great Thing, which won the Books in Canada/Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Roger Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. His nonfiction has appeared in Harper’s. The son of a diplomat, he grew up in Hong Kong, Denmark, England, and Canada, and was educated at McGill University and Cambridge. He now lives in Montreal.
- Julius’s side of the story is told in present tense, in a stream-of-consciousness style, and ends with his and Fall’s last date. Noel’s is the voice of someone looking back over more than a decade. What is the effect of Julius’s voice being frozen in time—forever eighteen, forever innocent of Fall’s fate? Does it affect the way you feel about him? How about the maturity of Noel’s perspective: does it alter your interpretation of his actions or your feelings about him? Whose voice did you find more compelling and why?
- The author looks at the adolescent experience both from the inside (Julius’s perspective) and from the outside (Noel’s retrospect as well as William’s perspective). Do they differ? Did you find the author’s portrayal of adolescence convincing?
- Noel tells us, “People occasionally thought Julius was vaguely stupid because his answers were brief and oblique, but I knew how perceptive he was.” Do you agree with Noel’s assessment? Why or why not?
- Although the narrative is largely a duet between the two boys, there is another voice—William’s. What does his perspective add to the story? Why do you think the author chose to add his voice and not, say, Fall’s? What is the effect of our seeing her only through Noel and Julius’s eyes?
- After Fall’s disappearance, Noel muses, “No one attracts our solicitation as much as a pretty girl. She is a vessel of our hopes, we suggest her future, instinctively give her guidance, love to watch her, expect her to move through extraordinary spaces. And if something goes wrong, we instinctively imagine her as the victim...But what we hate to acknowledge is her volition” (pp. 291-2). Do you agree or disagree? To what extent is this feeling mirrored in his interactions with Fall? Do other characters in the book feel the same way? What is Fallon’s role in this novel?
- According to Noel, part of Julius’s appeal is “A strange obliviousness to the world, which somehow drew the world to him” (p. 81). Do you agree? To what extent is Noel also oblivious, and what effect does that have on the people around him? In the same passage, which describes a quiet moment shared in their room, Noel says, “I feel like it was then that our bond really developed.” How would you characterize that bond, that friendship?
- In a traditional mystery narrative structure, the crime is described in the beginning and the culprit is revealed at the end. As much as either of those things occurs in Fall, they happen in the scene of Fall and Noel’s struggle on the riverbank. Why do you think the author chose to put that scene nearly in the middle of the book? What is gained and lost by this structure? How is our interpretation of the event colored by what we learn, before and after?
- At one point, Noel tells us that “I know she was alive when I left her and ran up the hill, and I never saw the scene as a grave...Someone went down there and helped her. Someone found her and that life we can never know was known” (p. 277). How certain are you of Fall’s actual fate? Why do you think the author chose to be vague?
- Noel tells us “I am writing all of this down because I wish to be more than a lonely collection of other people’s perceptions” (p. 327). What do you think he means? How does Noel’s perception of himself differ from others’? Do you trust him as a narrator?
- Can Fall be interpreted in part as a story of innocence vs. evil, or simply the loss of innocence? How do you think Julius or Noel would answer the question, “Does evil really exist?” Noel marks a passage from G. K. Chesterton: “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy” (p. 223). Do you agree or disagree? In what ways does that idea play out in the novel? In Biblical terms, the story of “The Fall” refers to Adam and Eve’s realization of sin and their expulsion from Paradise—what are the parallels here?