Peter Barry’s We All Fall Down is a book which has been crying out to be written since the economic downturn a few years ago. Part of the Get Reading 50 Books You Can’t Put Down initiative, the novel is the story of Hugh Drysdale, his wife Kate, and their young son Tim, who live in the outer suburbs of Sydney. Hugh works in an advertising agency which is struggling through the world’s economic instability, and is plagued by the pressure of trying to keep his job in order to make repayments on their new family home. Meanwhile, Kate was never sure about buying that particular house anyway, and resents the amount of time Hugh spends at work, away from her and Tim.
While the novel felt unnecessarily dense at times, it is a scarily accurate read of not only the rat race people can’t escape, but of the very likely future if people’s thinking and mentality towards money and material possessions don’t change. Barry’s characterisation is so vivid, it is often hard to remember that the characters in these pages are fictional. Likewise, his descriptions of the inner workings of the advertising industry are covered in such detail, that it is hard to believe this particular advertising agency doesn’t exist.
Hugh is a complex, dynamic character. I thought I had his measure in the first few chapters, and liked him, although this may have been in contrast to his wife Kate, who I found very little to like about. Yet as the novel progressed, I found myself questioning Hugh’s actions and rationalisations, even though, in the end, he manages to slightly redeem himself. But only slightly.
The insight We All Fall Down offers into today’s society is so accurate, so raw, that you can’t pick up this novel and think, well, everything will be okay. As the novel’s title suggests, it is not a matter of if, but when. And not only ‘when will it happen?’, but ‘when will people sit up and actually start to realise what is happening?’. Which is a tough ask when nobody yet seems to know what ‘it’ is.
Transit Lounge Publishing, 2012