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I See Buildings Fall Like Lightning by Keiran Goddard review – growing up and apart

I See Buildings Fall Like Lightning by Keiran Goddard review – growing up and apart


Eiran Goddard is an author who writes poetry and novels. His first novel, Hourglass, was nominated for the Desmond Elliott prize in 2022. His second novel, I See Buildings Fall Like Lightning, is a worthy continuation. It tells the story of Rian, Patrick, Shiv, Oli, and Conor as they grow up and grow apart in a working-class community in Birmingham. Rian has left Birmingham and become wealthy by chance through stock market trading on his laptop, while the others have remained behind. As Goddard states in a powerful opening sentence, “And then none of it happened.” Life came at them quickly, and their dreams have not come true. Patrick works as a delivery driver for a takeout restaurant and has two children with Shiv. Oli is a drug dealer who is too dependent on his own supply. Conor has a chaotic home life but has a plan to improve things.

In the opening of the story, a group of childhood friends reunite for a night out where Conor approaches Rian for financial assistance with a building endeavor. However, as the story progresses, a tragic event occurs that appears to sever their ties to their previous memories.

The narrative style used here is subtly unconventional. Instead of fast-paced or dynamic storytelling, Goddard presents a series of tableaux and character studies by switching between the perspectives of his five main characters. These internal monologues provide updates on the current situation while the plot unfolds in the background, observed but not directly experienced by the reader. The technique is reminiscent of Jon McGregor’s successful novels such as If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Reservoir 13, where voices and images build upon each other to create a complex portrayal of individuals losing their sense of direction in adulthood.

It’s not always entirely satisfying, as the technique dispenses with the pleasure of pure, live storytelling, one thing flowing into another. There’s little vocal differentiation, and so without conventional dramatic scenarios in which the characters can extensively interact, the text sometimes becomes a monochrome reading experience. There is also a slight tension between the book’s close focus on a small friendship group and its occasional gestures towards having something larger to say about Birmingham, or even England.

Goddard’s characters each feel isolated within their own lives, and remain isolated from the wider world when they get together; what the novel studies is a friendship group, not a wider community. Many great writers about work, from Robert Tressell to David Storey and right up to Boiling Point on the BBC last year, have sought to dramatise the hustle and bustle of a workplace; the building site at the heart of Goddard’s novel is only really seen and overheard from a distance.

However, there are certain factors that should not overshadow the accomplishment of this moving and highly successful character study. It is often said that second novels, much like second albums, can be challenging to navigate; after having their entire lives to perfect their first works, writers often feel pressured to replicate their earlier success within a short time frame of 18 months to two years. This is a simplistic view of how artists evolve. Regardless of the outcome, second novels mark the point where a new perspective on the world, introduced in the writer’s debut, begins to evolve and mature – the single book gives way to a multifaceted career, and the writer’s future direction becomes apparent. This book has left me eager to follow Goddard’s continued growth as an artist.

Source: theguardian.com