Chatto & Windus £14.99

Fallout By Sadie Jones - book review

The part glamorous, part rough-and-tumble world of the theatre provides rich pickings for fiction, plays, and films. Sadie Jones’s fourth novel, set largely in the 1970s, is a hugely enjoyable new contribution to the backstage genre.

Luke – attractive and restless, a writer and womaniser – longs to leave his grim northern town and his parents: his mother incarcerated in a mental hospital, his father an alcoholic. He meets, by chance, the urbane Paul and the feisty Leigh, young theatrical types in search of a play. Meanwhile in London, the fragile, beautiful actress Nina (Chekhov associations surely not coincidental) begins her career under the thumb of her ghastly, pushy mother, who soon hands the reins over to Tony, a manipulative producer. He romances and moulds Nina – despite his obvious predilection for young men. 

Luke, Paul, and Leigh become a tight trio, both professionally – starting Graft, an above-a-pub theatre company – and romantically. But Luke’s maxim – “Don’t chat up the stage management” – puts paid to romance with Leigh, propelling her into the arms of the solid, safe Paul instead. Inevitably, Luke and Nina cross paths, and the stage is set for a drama of ambition and adultery.

All this might sound like soapy fodder, but Fallout is both deliciously gobble-able and carefully constructed. Jones exhibits great insight into human behaviour: as the perspective slides easily between characters, flickers of recognition spark with each. She’s brilliant on the whooshing rush of love, desire or friendship – and how the three are rarely as clearly delimited as we tell ourselves. Rare flashes of instinctual recognition or life-altering moments are caught precisely: “I know you, she thought – except she almost didn’t think it, so small a thing was it, so delicate”; “the wanting one another was in the room so quickly it was like vertigo”.

Jones’s comfortable, confident grip slips a little towards the end – Paul’s narrative feels hastily wrapped, and Nina’s development from feeble to calculating could use further drawing out. But the novel largely marries a satisfying story with real depth of feeling. 

Time and place are smoothly evoked too. Jones infuses Fallout with period detail (the cigarettes, the clothes, the drinks) while avoiding the more obvious Seventies London clichés. Her portrait of the theatre verges towards pastiche occasionally – Graft’s first play is “a violent, bestial hour about mines and miners” – but never undermines her characters. We may smile with hindsight at the earnestness of such experimental, political performances, but they are filled with an exhilarating sense of possibility.

Fictional creations are mixed with real names and shows from the era – a formative time for British theatre, following the creation of the RSC and the National, and the end of stage censorship in 1968. Theatre aficionados may enjoy guessing who or what Jones is nodding towards (The Depot, a Covent Garden warehouse Paul converts into a theatre, for example, is surely the Donmar), but the story never gets bogged down in all that. No prior knowledge is required for a thoroughly pleasurable read.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas