*Before you read this review I would advise you go to Rememberance Of Things Past – Part 1: A Review Of Charlie Laidlaw’s The Space Between Time which explains why we are considering the two novels together.*
You wait for one novel examining the unreliable nature of memory and then two come along at once. The first was Charlie Laidlaw’s The Space Between Time about which we said, “The Space Between Time offers hope for the future no matter the tricks and tribulations of the past. […] Pictures, events, and remembrances are reappraised and a different story emerges, one which will have the reader returning to the book’s earlier sections to see if they could have read them differently.”.
It just so happened that a second novel appeared around the same time looking at similar themes and ideas, but in a rather different way. It is award-winning poet David Cameron’s Prendergast’s Fall (published by Into Books), and to say it is unusual in structure and form doesn’t begin to tell the story. In fact it’s a novel which is as much about the way the story is told as the story itself.
Split into distinct parts, what you get are two unreliable narrators for the price of one as businessman Martin Prendergast’s life unfolds in different and distinct directions, first on the way down during the ‘fall’ (real or imagined, we’re never certain) and he remembers and examines the events which brought him to the edge of that ledge, his life flashing before his, and our, eyes – journeying all the way back to Prendergast’s first breath.
Once you have reached that point you then flip the book around, start at his very beginning, and work your way back through now familiar events which inevitably leads us back to that ledge. (I have been told that is the way the book is meant to be read, although it would be interesting to speak to someone who did so the other way around).
You may think that this just amounts to reading the same text twice, but there are differences, often subtle ones, which lend the telling of the life of Martin Prendergast a literal different turn of events. It’s an inspired twist which asks the reader to reflect on their own past, and how memories are central to the idea of self and individual identity.
Prendergast’s existence, on the first reading, appears to be one of increasing disappointment, with life, with others, and with himself. Things have not worked out as they should, and he feels he has failed as a son, lover, husband, and father. Even work, which seems successful to others, causes him anguish instead of pride. While it is way too simplistic to say that his life unfolds once as tragedy, again as comedy, there is more positivity to be found in Prendergast’s younger life which makes a greater impact in the second telling. It shows that where a story begins can be as important as where it ends.
With Prendergast’s Fall Cameron has written one of the most inventive and interesting novels of recent times (and the best book by anyone called David Cameron of 2019). The structure may be eye-catching and unusual, but it is the writing which stays with you – nuanced, insightful, and exacting. If you are looking for comparison’s then in terms of structure there are echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli – but only echoes as it stands alone.
In terms of themes and ideas I would offer you Andre Gide, Albert Camus, and James Kelman as all examine the nature of existence and being, and what that means to the individual. You also can’t avoid comparisons with Proust’s examination of involuntary memory, In Search of Lost Time. However your own experience of memory will be enough to make an immediate connection with Prendergast’s Fall.
It is a novel to take your time and pour over (and possibly become mildly obsessed with). If you’re anything like me you’ll return to the story for a third time, making direct comparisons between the two versions. It is a novel which demands a degree of commitment from the reader but then all the best novels do.