Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Ground Will Catch You by David Powning

Reviewer: Ruby Barnes, author of Peril, Dodge, The Baptist and other novels.

What we thought: A thought-provoking, character-driven novel. The main character and narrator, Steve Hollis, is an anti-hero who has difficulty fitting into the world around him. He’s successful at his advertising sales job but feels no pride from it and dislikes his work colleagues. His former interest in Judo was put aside when he abused the martial art for purposes of revenge, and guilt denies him a return to the sport. A passion for life is something that he keeps locked away, like a miser saving up money with no foreseeable hope of ever spending it. Life picks Steve up and slams him down on the mat. He lets the ground catch him and bounces back for more punishment. Rinse and repeat. Steve haphazardly wanders through existence without making any real life-choice decisions. Until he meets two new, very different people: Jack and Emily.

Steve discovers life. He regains his dojo mojo, getting involved with Jack’s judo club and feeling the lure of the Orient. Irresistible Emily brings a missing, different spice to Steve’s existence with the promise of a privileged Occidental life, mixing in cultural circles, and escaping to pastoral marital bliss. The perfect private life balance, a confluence of relationship and sport, providing an ideal environment for work and family. Is life going to give Steve a break? Does an anti-hero deserve a break?

Steve, Jack and Emily are real people with typical human failings. Anyone who has ever dedicated themselves to sport will know the challenges of maintaining an equilibrium across the demands of modern life. But more sinister forces are at play here. The threat of a disastrous outcome for Steve hovers above the pages of this book from the start. The surprise is the direction it comes from and the motivation of the protagonists. The Ground Will Catch You is not all happiness and light, but then neither is life. Strangely gripping, at times frustrating when the characters exhibited their all too realistic flaws, I was left thinking yes, Steve Hollis has benefited from this tough experience. He has grown stronger and his life will be long and full.

Avoid this if you dislike: first person narration (by the way, get over that – one lives life in the first person, doesn’t one?) or if foreshadowing irritates you. Don’t read this if you want an action-packed, plot-driven novel. The characters make this story.

You’ll enjoy this if you: like and appreciate metaphor, if you can sympathise with the underdog and if you want some quiet reassurance that the lives of others can be so much worse than yours. There’s a strong message in The Ground Will Catch You and, if you’re the right type of reader for this book, that message will stay with you for a long time.

Ideal accompaniments: a warm mat, a challenging partner, a good wrestle and some cold beer.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction.

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