Review: Falling Is Like Flying by Manon Uphoff translated by Sam Garrett (2021)

Blurb

This is a story she never wanted to tell, but in the end she had no choice. When her older sister dies at the age of sixty-nine, it brings back a past the author thought she had left behind. Incensed, she delves back into her childhood, recreating the abusive world that she grew up in, ruled over by her tyrannical father, The Minotaur.

In a narrative by turns shockingly dark and strangely beautiful, she retraces her path through the phantasmagorical labyrinth, bringing a tale of silent trauma to a triumphant, raucous conclusion. Falling is Like Flying is an extraordinary autobiographical story of abuse and resilience, a literary triumph that reminds us what language is capable of.

Review

Many thanks to Tara at Pushkin Press for providing me with a proof copy of Falling Is Like Flying in exchange for an honest review.

This book comes with the biggest of all trigger warnings – hopefully clear from the blurb – this is a searing, flaying exploration of trauma and abuse, and I do think it needs to be read when you’re feeling strong enough. I can’t comment on what it would be like to read this as a survivor of abuse, but my advice would probably be approach with caution. Having said that, it is also an utterly remarkable book, a work that pushes past the unspeakable and breaks out into almost a whole new mode of prose. As dark and distressing as the subject matter is, the result is something transformative and quite beautiful.

There is a dual power to Uphoff’s words, as translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. First, there is an emotional heft and weight, metallic and frightening, lurking in the hints and metaphors that circle around the story of Uphoff’s childhood. And then, as the narrative progresses, there is, gradually, a realisation of the work that is being done here, her story being subtly, beautifully, taken ownership of, transformed into a staggering work of literature that left me reeling after finishing it.

It is impossible to overstate the emotional impact of this book. But the greater surprise, and even, towards the very end, pleasure of Falling Is Like Flying is the sheer power of thought and language, of what can be achieved by a fierce intellect and almost unbearable honesty. This is extremely powerful work, and it feels like an honour to be invited into the story Uphoff did not want to tell, but which gave her no choice. I hope that the telling has brought her the peace she so deserves.

Falling Is Like Flying by Manon Uphoff translated by Sam Garrett is out now from Pushkin Press and is available to purchase here.

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