Falling Animals is a novel that reads as a finely woven series of linked stories that are all part of one greater story, a chorus of voices each adding a piece of the puzzle in the mystery of an unidentified dead man who appears on the beach of a seaside town; each character in some way linked to this man, some fleetingly, some more connected; some during his life, and some since the serenely posed body appeared, sitting up and facing out to sea.
I loved Armstrong’s debut short story collection How to Gut a Fish, where often getting to the end of the story seemed less urgent than becoming completely lost in the lyrical quality of each sentence and acutely observed moment, and the same could be said here in her debut novel. Each chapter, named after the particular role the character in question plays in the overall flow of the story, offers us a little window into what is overall a broad and diverse cast of characters, each looking inwards to their own troubles, while also looking outward at the community and world around them. The voices begin in the small coastal village where the body shows up before soaring further afield, making this a rich tapestry brimming with love and grief, struggles and small victories, dreams and hardships; turning a story that begins as something microcosmic into something sweeping. While this means the novel reaches far, it does return; like a net being cast out to sea, pulled back in the hopes of revealing answers.
Armstrong’s writing is haunting and evocative, with a particular knack for nature writing that brings nature to life in striking ways, while the different perspectives consider how, everyday, lives weave in and out of each other; sometimes only momentarily and in barely perceptible ways, sometimes leaving an indelible mark.
Beautiful writing, and a book to get lost in.
Falling Animals is published May 25th by Bloomsbury. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my eARC.
Sheila Armstrong is a writer from the northwest of Ireland. She spent ten years in publishing and now works as a freelance editor. Her first collection of short stories, How To Gut A Fish, which was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize, was published in 2022. Falling Animals is her debut novel.
2 responses to “Book Review – Falling Animals by Sheila Armstrong”
I am now a fan of short stories and I’ll see if I can get this book on NetGalley. Thanks for the review.
This is a novel, although the different perspectives and stories means it should appeal to short story lovers. Her previous book, an actual collection of short stories, is wonderful so you should definitely check that one out too!