Eifion Jenkins If You Fall I Will Catch You Seren 2008
Gwidion is a boy an the verge of manhood to whom 9/11 means nothing. But in 2084, the psychic shockwaves of an event that once shook the world are still felt in his village — all that is left of Wales. Gwidion’s unusual mental powers bring him to the attention of the planet’s remaining politicians, desperate for a way to escape the failing Earth. But in a world which has lost track of its history, Gwidion is determined to find out the truth about his past. His efforts to answer his own questions propel him from his sheltered rural community, via the mysterious Soma Academy in Madrid, to a new life in the outer reaches of the galaxy.
A remarkable first novel, If you fall I will catch you is set in a richly imagined future where the narrative shifts from south Pembrokeshire to Spain, Peru and a world several light years away. Eifion Jenkins spins a tale that, following the arrow of time, springs out of the events of September 11th and the World Trade Center at the beginning of this millennium. It gradually becomes clear that while you can’t change the past you can influence the shape of future events by just little apparently inconsequential acts, sometimes by just being yourself.
The horror familiar from video clips and photographs showing distant human figures plunging down past the windows of one or other of the twin towers is vicariously revisited on Gwidion, living in an isolated but near self-sufficient community that is apparently all that is left of Wales. The date is now 2084 (surely deliberately evocative of 1984 and the supranational powers in Orwell’s dystopian vision) and the stage is set for a series of events that lead from one nightmarish situation to another. The world has suffered a disaster, a pandemic of infertility, artificially introduced, which ultimately upsets the geopolitical situation forever. There are secret plans to send a select group on an interstellar ship to seek a habitable planet (in reality, the number of potential worlds or Goldilocks planets identified increases year on year in our own world).
Gwidion is a child who doesn’t yet know his father, but he has a twin, Cai (or does he?), and in the course of the book attempts to make real human connections with a number of individuals, most of them sadly unrequited. He is discovered to have singular psychic abilities, which causes him to be uprooted from his community and to become a pawn, and maybe a player, in the events that may determine the future of humankind.
Recurrent themes and images thread their way through this book, many related to the fear of falling from a high place, many related too to the connections the main protagonist makes or doesn’t make with those he meets. Jenkins creates memorable characters, thought-provoking dialogue and striking settings, ranging from a village in a biodome via an academy in a depopulated Madrid to an inhospitable planetary terrain. There is a lingering sense of sadness and tragedy throughout this book, but also a sense of hope and the promise of a new beginning, though maybe not for the remnants of mankind. A stunning debut novel which raises questions of individual responsibility and loyalties.
If you fall works on many levels, and though the title apparently bears no relevance to a pop song or the 2084 date to a film or a video game, there may be significance in the Tree Alphabet that gets mentioned in Book One of the novel that I’ve yet to fathom. The choice of names for the Spanish speakers do seem, too, to relate to Argentinian writer Borges, Spanish poet Lorca and so on, adding resonance to the narrative.
This is a book that seems to touch on different genres, science fiction obviously but also a bit of magic realism and a prolonged meditation on a key image that dominated the early years of this millennium. And many of the book’s images and contrasting moods will linger in my memory, regardless of any future re-read.
Review first published Jun 14, 2012 and here slightly revised.
This was Eifion Jenkins’ first novel in English; more may be found at http://www.eifionjenkins.co.uk/