To Hell and Back: Falling Out Of Time by David Grossman

on Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Is it a novel? A play? A prose poem? A greek tragedy? Well, yes. I think. All of them. A marvel? Yes, that too.

After his perfectly accessible masterpiece, To The End Of The Land, David Grossman returns to the same conceptual grounds with about as inaccessible a book as you can imagine (short of James Joyce). From its opening page Falling Out Of Time disorients the reader - a man stops eating in the middle of the dinner and announces he is going on a journey to find someone (it is unclear who at first) at the place it happened (again not sure what). As the man and his wife talk, we come to understand their loss - Grossman's own - of having a son fall in battle, of having military police turn up at the door heralding the terrible news. Theirs is a fragile tenderness, a love weighed down by absence. She understands his need, does not stop him. The man begins his walk, narrated by a Town Chronicler, directionless, only forward, in search of his dead son. Along the way he encounters others, townsfolk who have also lost their children, to accident, to suicide, to murder. Fragments of their stories creep in as they join him on the search to find where life and death meet. To the reader, at least, it seems they are simply walking in circles around their town, a slight spiral that takes them a little further out each time without ever really going anywhere. Eventually they hit a wall that just might be the gateway to the other world. Or the impossibility of crossing.

If this all seems a bit obtuse to you then you'd probably best steer clear of this book. Mine is the instructional manual version. The depth of Grossman's understanding of loss and grief is extraordinary. That much was clear in To The End Of The Land. Falling Out Of Time takes it one step further. Drawing heavily on the Orpheus mythos in both form and substance, it explores the human limits of love. How do you make sense of what remains in your heart when the person is no longer here? How can you relate to the dead when they can't relate to you? Grossman doesn't necessarily provide answers but he suggests modes of reason. And he self-consciously breaks your heart. The passage, about two thirds of the way through, where the various parents question their children's fate is one of the most painful I've ever read. And this:

But where are you, what are you?
Just tell me that, my son.
I ask simply:
Where are you?

No doubt many who loved To The End of The Land will be totally alienated by this book. It is their loss. For though you may not always fully understand what you are reading, you will never doubt that you are in the presence of true greatness.
5 Out Of 5 Greek Choruses


Anonymous said...

seems like a book for me. Dasa

The Bookworm said...

Yes, I think you'll really like it. A very difficult but even more rewarding book.

Anonymous said...

Could it be as hard as Grossman's book about Bruno Schulltz, See Under: Love? I got interested in Schultz before I got interested in Grossman. Another fascinating connection between one living and one dead man, maybe a rehearsal for Falling Out of Time, though not so agonisingly close to home and heart.

The Bookworm said...

I haven't read See Under: Love. Didn't realise it was about Schulz (one of my favourite authors). Will definitely have to read it now!

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