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Kate, a waitress told to self-isolate in November of last year, is left to look after her son Matt for their days of mandated seclusion. Anguished by house arrest, and realising the futility of rules she supported in theory
but cannot follow in practice, she leaves the house for an evening walk on the nearby fells, left deserted in the
Matt, upstairs and gaming away, is unaware of his mother’s excursion. Only Alice, their kindly elderly neighbour, sees her walking off. Tripping over a rock on the fells, Kate is severely injured in the dark cold of the night, her son left waiting alone as the police helicopters attempt to find her.
The most enriching parts of the novel lie in the internal monologues of Kate and Alice as they contemplate the inanity of their situations: Alice in her homely comfort fretting about the madness of a society locking itself away for the supposed benefit of people like her, and Kate riven by a conflicted mind as she breaks rule after rule in searching for release on the hills.
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Lockdown gave ample space for many of us to wallow in self-pity, yet The Fell is never self-indulgent – there are no sanctimonious reminders of moral responsibility, only a distinct human sensitivity which is much more valuable than any charts, predictions or commands.
I cannot tell whether JJ Bola’s The Selfless Act of Breathing is life-affirming or not, given that its subject is one young man’s contemplation of life and the loss of it. Possessed by a daring turn of phrase and at times a beautifully powerful sense of personal poignancy, this largely first-person novel not only speaks to the people society ignores all too often, but to the feelings and frustrations we also try to repress.
While not a flawless book, it is one which should be pushed into the hands of friends accompanied by the question: do you feel like this too?
Patrick Maxwell is a writer and journalist.
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