Book review: A short history of falling: everything I observed about love whilst dying by Joe Hammond

Book review: A short history of falling: everything I observed about love whilst dying by Joe Hammond

reviewed by Frances Churchward.

When I first read the blurb inside the cover of this book, I must admit felt somewhat reluctant to read it. The book, amongst other things, charts the author’s progress of motor neurone disease and his experience of living with the disease and moving towards his own death. I am by nature, quite sensitive, and, like many others I suspect, try to avoid having to confront my own mortality. Therefore, I wasn’t sure whether I would cope well with a book largely devoted to the topic. However, as it states in the blurb, this is also a book about love and fatherhood.

Joe Hammond is a writer and a playwright and this is a beautifully crafted book. It is not really a book about death but, rather, about life; life for Hammond, living with a degenerative condition and about his wife and small sons living with the condition. It is a book about human resilience in the face of great adversity.

Hammonds writing is almost lyrical as he charts his troubled childhood and his relationships as an adult with his parents. I found his use of his own original metaphors to describe some everyday, and some not so everyday actions, apt and appealing; for example, he describes his now elderly father’s movements around a room as resembling that of a Spirograph (a children’s toy used to create patterns) with Hammond’s wife, Gill, as the centre point. 

Hammond is the father to two small boys and his book is also about his need to confront the fact that his children will continue to grow and to live without his presence. He observes that his children appear to be able to live with the knowledge of death and can, at the same time, be happy. As an adult who mostly shied away from discussing death with my own children whilst at the same time recognising that they seemed able to take the fact of death on board without it appearing to trouble them, I have yet again been reminded, by reading this book, that it is adults who have problems with acknowledging death whilst children tend to take it much more in their stride.

This is a truly beautiful book; Hammond never writes with a trace of self-pity or despair. He says that he wrote the book for his sons but, along the way, he appears to have laid to rest a few ghosts of his own.

Out now, published by 4th Estate, available from good bookshops, including October Books  in Portswood Road, Southampton.