“He looked up at the two women and grinned. ‘I want to show you something,’ he said, and instead of pushing the valve to make the balloon descend as he should have done, he pulled it out so that there was a jump in the basket, a startling upwards tug.”
If you are going to set a story in the past then your research has to be spot on if it is going to be believable. But it’s a balancing act because too many facts and figures and it turns into a history essay and too little and it just won’t engage the reader.
Rooney manages to walk that tightrope well here with some real characters popping up like Thomas Cook, the travel tour operator, as well the fictional creations that rub shoulders with them.
There are several strands going on here that Rooney pulls together around the theme of a moment of faith or realisation that life is there to be lived and not constrained by the past or fears stemming from previous tragedies.
For the main character Ursula Bridgewater the moment of faith comes when she rejects a marriage proposal and discovers the confidence to go it alone and dedicate her life to gaining women the vote.
For her traveling companion Sally Walker, who has witnessed her mother dying under the wheels of a coach to protect her and then been the victim of relgious bigotry, she finds the strength through finding love to speak up.
For the third character Toby O’Hara he finds the truth that explains just how much his mother cared for him and just why the legacy of flying might not be the glorious ambition he thought his father had passed onto him.
There are hidden depths to this story as well as a fair amount of information being given about not just life in Liverpool in 1862 but also the state of progress on flight in the years before the Wright brothers finally managed to crack it.
For the bored and weary Ursula as well as her companion Sally it is America, with its can-do attitude and women voting states that provides the inspiration and the context for love to flourish.
An interesting read that delivers a lesson in how to deliver a good story in a well researched setting.
If you are going to be taken by the hand and led into the past you need to be taken there with complete confidence that the world you are reading about and imagining is right in every detail.
So far so good with The Opposite of Falling painting a picture of life in 1862 for a woman of leisure as well as an orphan being brought up by nuns. The alternating chapters, a common technique to introduce differing viewpoints, allows you to follow the lives of wealthy but bored Ursula Bridgewater and the vulnerable and orphaned Sally Walker.
Over the other side of the Atlantic the character of the flying obsessive O’Hara is also emerging. The three will eventually meet but before then there have to be some more movements by all three to get into a situation when they are in a position to collide.
So far it’s fairly interesting. A review will follow on completion…