Book Review: Falling Sideways by Tom Holt

Falling Sideways by Tom Holt - Header

I just needed an escape. I just needed to read something that wasn’t based on psychology. That didn’t grab you and demand your full attention, that wasn’t heavy, melancholic or dark. I just wanted a story that was light and comedic and throwaway. I wanted the literary version of cinematic popcorn fodder.

Matthew Thomas only wrote two stories: Terror Firma and Before & After but that was the style I was after, a humorous and almost silly look at life and a quick Google search for “Authors like Matthew Thomas” turned up Tom Holt, the first book at the top of his metaphorical pile being Falling Sideways and that was enough to get me reading. Although the brief synopsis describing a story mixing frogs, humans and evolution answered my brief for a preposterously fun story that I had initially searched for.

Consequences (Game) - Falling Sideways by Tom Holt

Sadly though, while the story does mix frogs, Homo Sapiens and the timeline of the planet Earth, it does so in such a cack-handed manner that it just felt like there was no design or thought going into it. In fact the book felt more like the wild imaginations of a weak school story than a coherent and interesting comic novel. There were times when all I could think about in my mind was the class room game of “Consequences” where you’d write a sentence of a story on a piece of paper, folding it over to cover it up before passing it to someone else to repeat the process; ending up with a seeming disconnected tale that when 12 years old seems clever and funny, but when examined closely is complete and utter gibberish.

My problem was that I just found it impossible to get any handle on the characters. They’d come and go and be spun from situation and situation in such a way that I was never sure who was good, bad or indifferent, and too often the characters would seemingly switch tone half way through so that they somehow didn’t seem to fit with everything you’d be told previously. It was almost as though Tom Holt was writing by grabbing situations that he thought seemed funny and them playing them out with whatever characters where nearest at the time, without bothering to check how it would tie back to the story as a whole.

Magician (Pulling A Rabbit From A Hat) - Falling Sideways by Tom Holt

There were also times when the story just seemed to invent and use whatever it needed at that moment in time to make the scene work. All hidden under the illusion of magic. I sat there reading myself into a corner, wondering where anything was going and how A now connected to B before “abracadabra” out of nowhere something would appear, be changed or simply ignored to force the story forward again. The end result being a tale that I never fully trusted because it never feels connected and ultimately is impossible to follow.

And worse than all of that, it’s just not funny.

I can’t actually remember ever laughing. I don’t even remember raising the odd chuckle at a pleasant one liner or quirky sentence. The story is just plain and simplistic and Tom Holt’s writing style involves a lot of structural grammar. Commas, semi-colons, and interjected speech that while I’m sure are technically correct in their use, meant that the book didn’t really read with a natural flow. Too often it would break up a sentence or a speech causing me to pause the voice in my head as I tried to clarify and check who was saying what and how it pieced together. The result being that it simply broke any chance of laughter that it aimed for.

Tom Holt (Author) - Falling Sideways

As a story I just found it too muddled to be really enjoyable and because it’s involves so many strands and ideas and implausible changes in direction I didn’t really become lost in it. I never sat there turning page after page caught up in its story, longing to know more. In fact, while I will admit that it fitted my original brief, it is a light read, being neither taxing or dark, the lack of humour and simplistically shallow story meant that I never committed to it, warmed to the character or really cared about what happened to them. I can’t even say that I could see the world and it’s inhabitants in my mind, purely because I just didn’t try to really paint the picture.

It may be that this isn’t Tom Holt’s finest work, but sadly, it left me so disinterested in his writing that I don’t think I will bother reading any else by him. It just didn’t grip me, make me laugh or bring anything to life. In fact, Falling Sideways left me verging on a level of boredom that with 20 pages to go I thought about giving up. Forcing myself to finish the story simply because it seemed such a waste to close the book so near to its conclusion. Whether enjoyable or not.

It’s such a narrative mess that I cannot recommended it, it wasn’t a pleasant or enjoyable read.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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