Patrick Flanery’s first novel, Absolution, was a delicately wrought portrait of the relationship between a biographer and an acclaimed novelist set against conflicting memories of the opposition to apartheid in South Africa. On publication last year it was justly lauded for its dexterous balance of the fictional and the historical. The same cannot be said of Fallen Land, Flanery’s confused new work. Flanery is an American living in London and this book is set in his homeland. Viewed as American fiction, Fallen Land belongs to the genre that John Dos Passos once disparagingly defined as ‘gentle satire’ and characterised as being ‘usually vague and kindly, sometimes bitter’ in tone. Such stylistic ambivalence permeates Fallen Land. The novel targets many subjects – capitalism, environmental destruction, race, security – while failing to strike any of them cleanly.
Largely set in the recent past, Fallen Land focuses on a house on the outskirts of an indeterminate Midwestern city. A middle-class couple from Boston – Nathaniel and Julia Noailles – have both been offered promotions and decide to move to the city with their seven-year-old son Copley. They want