There are copious layers of beautiful language and imagery in Falling is Like Flying. Manoff’s story crushes you once the foundation of pain and suffering the novel rests upon, is revealed.
Falling is Like Flying is an autobiographical novel that follows the narrator carefully easing herself back into her abusive childhood, as she painfully recounts her father’s sexual abuse of all four of his daughters. Uphoff hoped to never tell this story. However, after her older sister’s death aged 69, an eternal rage was ignited, impossible to ignore.
The narrator introduces herself to us from the present day. She has isolated herself in the forest with her husband, her fingers hesitant to pick up a pen. But she knows it is a story she must tell, but how? How can she tell a story that she has hidden away for over four decades? Who is going to believe her now? It does not matter for Uphoff, telling the story will provide her sisters and herself some long-awaited justice.
Uphoff takes time to disclose the stories of her sisters. She is certain that the abuse her sisters suffered mirrored her own. Uphoff understood her father’s fantasies and desire for control in a world where there was so little; She even witnessed her father reading their diaries and tracking their menstrual cycles. Why would she be wrong about the sexual assault she knew was to inevitably come as each sister got older? I found this incredibly harrowing, for countless women have similar stories to hers. Her story, she argues, is not unique.
This is one of the most painful parts of Falling is Like Flying. Whist Uphoff doesn’t go into much detail about the abuse, she incorporates imagery and symbolism so the readers know what is happening, though they are spared of the explicit details. The Minotaur, for instance, is the name Uphoff assigns her father. She depicts him as a cruel but powerful figure- someone who has created a labyrinth his daughters cannot escape. He forces upon them an oppressive, traumatic childhood they will never forget, and can only learn to live with.
Is there a happy ending? I’d like to think the process brought Uphoff some closure, particularly as it seemed to bring her closer to her sisters. The final chapter finds them sat around their table talking about their father, imagining what revenge they would have liked to inflict upon him. They sit laughing- venting their anger with one another. The chapter calls them “witches” — a feminist reclamation! They are neither evil nor insane; They are women, a sisterhood, sharing their trauma and channelling it into something stronger. It is truly a beautiful ending.
Translated from the Dutch, this is Manon’s first novel to be translated into English, and importantly so! Studying literary theory at university, Uphoff is evidently a master of language. She draws heavily on literary texts and symbolism to reveal just how normalised abuse is in society. It takes courageous acts of fiction, like Falling is Like Flying, to expose such a harmful convention.
Falling is Like Flying can be bought here
Words by Georgia McInnes
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