In the Place of Fallen Leaves by Tim Pears is a novel set in Devon. The main character, Alison, is an 11 year old girl about to go up to secondary school. She lives with her family in a rural community and the book concentrates on a long, very hot summer. Internal evidence in the book leads me to believe that it is set in about 1983.
As the long, hot summer continues nothing much happens in the village. It seems like time is standing still for the characters but the reader can see that things are changing. Alison’s grandmother represents an older way of life which is also one where folklore and superstition plays a big part. Alison’s brother Ian represents the future as he adapts his farming techniques and takes advantage of the Common Market subsidies. Alison herself is growing up as puberty arrives and she faces a new life attending a new school. All this is in the background as we follow the family and the local people through the heat and its consequences.
There are a number of ongoing stories, such as Alison’s brother Tom’s love affair and Alison’s friendship with the local rich kid. There are also some dramatic events such as a fire, a near drowning, some deaths and a betrayal. The two ways of telling a story don’t always go well together and the book is quite episodic. Often a big event happens which then doesn’t then really impact on anyone’s life. The book occasionally seems disjointed.
The characters are great, albeit slightly exaggerated. I particularly enjoyed the eccentric but supportive rector and the Portuguese cleaning lady. The pace of the book allows for lots of different characters and there is even room for them to change and grow. The episodes with Alison’s grandparents towards the end of the book are particularly moving. There are some scenes in the story relating to the death of animals which some people might find a bit too much to take.
This is a slow book which almost but not quite lost my attention in the middle. It has an excellent sense of time and place. The character of Alison is particularly well portrayed and the author picks up well on the intelligent child who has potential but who is at the mercy of her hormones. I didn’t find it gripping but I did enjoy it.