Author: Susan Johnson
Title: From Where I Fell
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, March 2021
Susan Johnson is a well- known and accomplished Australian author who has produced eight novels, a memoir, and a non-fiction book. She is internationally published and has lived in Europe for periods of her life. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia.
From Where I Fell is a clever and engaging novel based on two women living completely different lives, continents apart. Pamela Robinson from Australia sends an email to her ex-husband and by mistake the email finds Chris Woods in the United States, who happens to have a similar email address.
The two women continue exchanging correspondence and an unlikely friendship ensues. It is a time of intense change and soul searching for both although their circumstances couldn’t be more diverse. Pamela, a single mother of three boys who chose to leave their father, seeks guidance and support from those around her. Her sons are out of control and she battles each day to be the parent she expects herself to be. Pamela is highly anxious, doubts her own ability to cope and struggles to set boundaries, for herself or her sons. Her ex-husband refuses to have contact with her.
Chris is married to a quiet man who’s almost invisible. They have no children, but Chris’s elderly Greek mother is noisily threatening to return to Greece to die in her home country. Chris carries the heavy burden of being a martyr, at work, with her friends and at home. She carries disappointment stoically and is kind but stern in her approach to life. She is known for her strong tendency to lend a helping hand where needed, until she oversteps the mark and is oftentimes condemned for her severe remarks and actions.
Pamela and Chris are both on a journey toward personal change. Their emails bounce back and forward progressively revealing current details of their lives. The two individual narratives are poignant in their own right and as the unusual friendship of the two corresponding women develops, so too does the intensity and honesty. A third story is represented in their interactions. Often brusque, apologetic, empathic, at times brutally truthful, beautiful, cringe worthy and pithy.
Reading From Where I Fell felt slightly voyeuristic and yet the compulsion to keep reading was all consuming. The struggles that surround the lives of women in caregiving circumstances, grief and disappointment are subtly identified and to some length unpacked. Cleverly, Susan Johnson leaves Pamela, the sender of the mistaken email, with the last word.
Trent Dalton gave praise to Susan Johnson’s latest book. ‘This is Susan Johnson at her most original, daring bone-deep and deliciously raw. I fell, too, with aching heart and tickled rib, under the spell of this extraordinary book.’
An intriguing and clever novel born of (but not in) COVID-19 times when emailing and electronic communication was and still is substituted for personal contact. The modality of this work replicates and extends our experiences over the last year. Susan Johnson never disappoints.
Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, March 2021
Ballarat Writers Inc Book Review Group