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The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

The Confusion of Languages

by Siobhan Fallon

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9513180,713 (3.79)3



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The Confusion of Languages is the knitting together and unraveling of a friendship between two women. There’s Cassie, a military wife who has lived in Jordan for years, ready to take Margaret under her wing, and Margaret, new to marriage, to motherhood, and to the Middle East, valuing kindness over custom.

The book opens with a car accident, a mother disappearing, a friendship spiraling out of control. Fallon tells her tale in in alternating chapters between Cassie in real time and Margaret’s diary (as Cassie begins to read it), allowing the reader to see how the friendship was stitched together and how it was torn apart—two stitches forward, one stitch ripped back.

Finding the Book and Coming Up With a Rating
I picked up The Confusion of Languages because Anne Bogel recommended it on her summer reading list and it took me this long to come up on the library hold list. The summer reading list was a bit more hit-and-miss for me than I expected, with The Confusion of Languages being a bit of a let down initially. One book on the list drove me crazy (The Lost Book of the Grail) and one was okay but a bit unexpectedly fluffy (A Bridge Across the Ocean). Some were absolute home runs (The Fall of Lisa Bellow, Anything is Possible, The Almost Sisters, Beartown, The Hate U Give, Dreamland Burning). I wanted The Confusion of Languages to be a homerun for me but it just wasn’t. To be fair to Fallon, it was likely the bit of the slump I was in colored my feelings toward the book—I probably needed something that was less of a slow, simmer and more of an immediately-boiling-book last week.

On top of this, one of the characters is absolutely abhorrent and she is making it difficult for me to fairly rate the book. On the one hand, I despise her so much I want to rate the book low because of her centrality to the narrative. On the other, I’m certain that I’m supposed to have a visceral negative reaction to her and the fact that I did find her so unsettling is a credit to Fallon as a writer—I am feeling what she wants me to feel. My immediate reaction was to rate it three stars, but as I get a few days’ distance from it, I can see the power of Fallon’s writing, how she sucked me in and made me love/hate characters despite myself. Like Lincoln in the Bardo, distance is making me recognize the power of the writing.

Fallon does an excellent job at making her characters well-rounded. Cassie is recognizable as someone we’ve all met—deeply flawed but real. Margaret through Cassie’s eyes is flighty; yet, through Margaret’s diary we see the value she placed on kindness—particularly kindness over custom. This emphasis on kindness and how it plays out with friendships and actions towards the Middle Eastern men around her ultimately brings her trouble. You know it’s coming but Fallon allows you to hope that it won’t—that Margaret’s naïve believe in kindness can, in fact, win over everyone. That it is the value that can trump all others.

And yet, this was not kindness developed in a vacuum. Through telling her story of how she met her husband Crick and became pregnant, and life before Crick, Margaret reveals her innocence, how deeply she was sheltered. You see how Margaret came to believe in kindness-over-all and the blindspots her background gave her. It was refreshing to see this value on kindness and, even with the way Margaret’s kindness causes the events in The Confusion of Languages to play out, I was still left with the sense that kindness is still mostly worth it. That the risk of being kind is still worth taking.

While the central relationship in the book is Cassie’s and Margaret’s friendship, each woman is in Jordan because she’s a trailing spouse of a military man. Margaret’s husband Crick is more fleshed out, mostly because he also interacts with Cassie, so stories of him are told by both women. He is a bit one-dimensional—walking machismo with the tiniest vein of tenderness and doubt that only Margaret got to see until the very end. He is the foil against which each woman reveals her own character, the brick wall for Margaret’s ivy tendrils and Cassie’s choking garden weeds. In contrast, Cassie’s own husband, Dan, is barely mentioned. We experience him almost solely through Cassie’s discussions of how he “unfairly” doesn’t trust her, how their infertility has become a cloud of judgment over her. This seemed to me a missed opportunity for Fallon. As portrayed, he is rather longsuffering and I do not for the life of me understand why he stayed with Cassie unless he was a bit of an emotional masochist. Having him be more fleshed out would answer so questions as to his own motivations and what the hell is going on with him and Cassie, since his staying seems so beyond anything I really understand.

Fallon’s style clearly delineated between Cassie’s current telling of the tale to the reader-audience and Margaret’s voice in her journal, intended solely for herself. Margaret’s unself-conscious writing was often briefly lovely—for example, when she told the story of her doorman giving her child chocolate intended as a welcoming gift but it was so old as to have gone grey. The baby spits it out and Margaret goes back in the dark to find the sliver of chocolate so that the doorman would not “find the spat-out gift and hav[e] to get down on hands and knees to clean up his own kindness.”

The two different focuses—Cassie to the audience and Margaret to herself—aided the story, enabling the reader to see Margaret as she was/saw herself as opposed to how only Cassie saw her—a detail that becomes important as the book progresses, since Cassie is slowly revealed to be a less than honest reporter of the people and actions around her.

There were no hiccups in the writing—nothing that made me cringe or roll my eyes. Here too the writing was tight, a credit to Fallon and her editor.

Overall Rating
Having had a few days distance from my gut reaction towards this book, I think it’s a solid almost-four. A three and three quarters. Fallons writing is heads and shoulders above many and the book was engaging with three dimensional characters that pulled you in despite yourself. It is a slow burn, more suited for a long, cold night by the fire than a summer day by the beach, even if the setting is warmer climes.

Published June 27, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons (@putnambooks)
Author: Siobhan Fallon
Date read: November 11, 2017
Rating: 3 ¾ stars
Tw: suicide, gaslighting

More reviews at http://lisaannreads.com ( )
  ImLisaAnn | Apr 12, 2018 |
What an interesting read. I don't know what I was expecting, probably something about languages, and to a literal extent it was, about a genuine confusion of languages. Of course, also to a figurative extent. But this book was something else, unlike anything I've read before, and I really enjoyed it.

We meet Cassie and Dan Hugo and Margaret and Crick (Creighton) Brickshaw and Margaret's child, Mather. The least dimensional of them all is was Cassie's husband, but that didn't bother me. He didn't have a huge role in the story. Cassie and Margaret are wives of military men (not soldiers waging war), stationed in Amman, Jordan, in connection with the American embassy there.

What essentially unfolds is the aftermath of a minor car accident that Cassie and Margaret get into. Cassie's story is told throughout that single day in the first person. Margaret's is told through her journal entries from the moment she and Crick move to Jordan months before, up until the present.

This doesn't sound like much to go on, but it is. I had this dreadful feeling when I read the first few pages. I wasn't in the mood for a thriller set in the Middle East. I did get a little bit of that, but I got so much more. A fascinating study of just two human existences and of their psychology. The human body and mind is an unbelievable thing.

Cassie is the rule follower, strict and proper. Margaret is forgetful, quick to see the good in everybody, insistent upon being happy and making others happy. The two are so, so different on paper, yet if you dig a little deeper, they aren't that different at all.

This review doesn't do the book justice even slightly, but the takeaway here is that I enjoyed this book. It was a fast read, a page-turner and deeply interesting. Thank you very much to the publishers and the author for the opportunity to read this book in advance. ( )
1 vote tuf25995 | Dec 29, 2017 |
Short Blurb:

Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that's about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie's become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret's toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie's boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn't Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret's apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend's whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret's disappearance.

Cover Review: The cover displays a night sky and stars, and does seem catchy. Starry covers are my favorite kind and the cover would surely have made me pick up the book.


I had high hopes for the book from the cover as well as the blurb, but I just couldn't get into it.

I found the story too monotonous and slow for my liking.

I tried very hard to read the complete book but I couldn't. Maybe it was too slow or maybe it just wasn't my type.

Be as it may, I didn't really enjoy reading this book but I hope others will. :)
  Swibells | Nov 28, 2017 |
If I hadn't been listening to this book as an audiobook, I might have put it down. It's mainly the story of two American women who come into contact while living in Jordan (both of their husbands have military-type jobs at the American embassy). One, older and more experienced at living in the Middle East, attempts to show the other, a young mother, around and guide her to living in a very different culture - guidance that's not always welcome. Things slowly come to their tragic head, an ending that becomes painfully obvious to the reader even before the narrator realizes it. This wasn't a bad book, but also don't pick it up expecting great insights into living in the Middle East or the like, this is the story of a friendship that's not really a friendship and the general tragedy of life. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Oct 9, 2017 |
Interesting read covering a short period of time in the lives of two military wives attached to the American Embassy in Jordan. One big take away from the story was that communication involves so much more than words. As I am not familar with the location in the story, I wish that I could depend on the author's fact checking, but after one of the main characters about watching fireflies in her backyard in San Jose, CA, I found myself wondering about other "facts". ( )
  MM_Jones | Oct 4, 2017 |
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Injustice and desperation make men

combustible, like dry wood

From the poem “What Is to Give Light” by Yahia Lababidi
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We are close, so close, to Margaret’s apartment, and I feel myself sink deeper into the passenger seat, relieved that I have succeeded in my small mission of getting Margaret out of her home, if only for a few hours.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399158928, Hardcover)

A searing debut novel from the award-winning author of You Know When the Men are Gone, about jealousy, the unpredictable path of friendship, and the secrets kept in marriage, all set within the U.S. expat community of the Middle East during the rise of the Arab Spring.

"A gripping, cleverly plotted novel with surprising bite." Phil Klay

"Mesmerizing and devastating . . .  two military wives must explore a modern-day, cultural labyrinth in this insatiable read." —Sarah McCoy

Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that’s about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie’s become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret’s toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie’s boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn’t Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret’s apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend’s whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret’s disappearance.
Written with emotional insight and stunning prose, The Confusion of Languages is a shattering portrait of a collision between two women and two worlds, as well as a poignant glimpse into the private lives of American military families living overseas.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 24 Jan 2017 19:25:33 -0500)

For fans of Notes on a Scandal and Janice Y.K. Lee's The Expatriates, a taut and intimate debut novel from Siobhan Fallon, award-winning author of You Know When the Men Are Gone, about jealousy, the unpredictable path of friendship, and the secrets kept in a marriage, all set against the U.S. military community in the Middle East.… (more)

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