Read The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy Online


Elizabeth Waters, an archaeologist who abandoned her husband and daughter years ago to pursue her career, can see the shadows of the past. It's a gift she keeps secret from her colleagues and students, one that often leads her to incredible archaeological discoveries and the realization that she might be going mad. Then on a dig in the Yucatan, the shadow of a Mayan priestElizabeth Waters, an archaeologist who abandoned her husband and daughter years ago to pursue her career, can see the shadows of the past. It's a gift she keeps secret from her colleagues and students, one that often leads her to incredible archaeological discoveries and the realization that she might be going mad. Then on a dig in the Yucatan, the shadow of a Mayan priestess speaks to her. Suddenly Elizabeth's daughter Diane arrives, hoping to reconnect with her mother. As mother, daughter and priestess fall into the mysterious world of Mayan magic, it is clear one will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice....

Title : The Falling Woman
Author :
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ISBN : 9780312854065
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Falling Woman Reviews

  • Miriam
    2019-05-24 21:33

    Narrated in alternating first-person narratives by archaeologist Elizabeth Butler and her adult daughter Diane, Falling Woman explores relationships between individuals, between past and present, between theory abstract and reality, between physical environment and culture.Elizabeth, a long-divorced expert on Mayan archaeology, is in the process of excavating at Dzibilichaltun when her daughter arrives unannounced. Diane lost her father, her job, and her boyfriend (who turned out to be married) in the span of two weeks. Suffering from insomnia and emotional distress, she decides to seek out the mother whom she has seen increasingly little of over the years since her parents divorced. Neither mother or daughter are good at expressing their feelings, and the reunion is an awkward one, although both are pleased to see one another again. Making their reconciliation more fraught are hidden fears of insanity which both suffer and neither vocalizes. Elizabeth is able to see and hear shadows of the past (these seem to be real and not delusions). She does not believe herself to be mad but was once institutionalized by her husband for her non-conformist behavior and was released only on condition of giving up custody of Diane. Diane's father brought her up to idealize conformity and emotional control, and she fears that letting her feelings out will show that she is insane. When she begins to see the past as well, she fears that she is losing her mind. Adding to the difficulties is the ghost of a Mayan priestess, one of the last servants of the Moon Goddess who was displaced by the Toltec invaders' religion. Able to communicate with Elizabeth, she urges her to make sacrifices that will restore the goddess. One of the themes I found most interesting in this book was the contrast between Elizabeth's respect for ancient cultures and extreme cultural relativism and the reality of practices as they affect individual lives. The story is partly set in the Bay Area of the 1980s, which is when and where I grew up, and Elizabeth's defense of Mayan cultic practices such as human sacrifice as being fine because "that was their culture" is precisely what I was taught in school and what most of my peers seemed to profess. Yet when the Mayan priestess wants to enact her cultural beliefs by sacrificing those that Elizabeth cares about, does she respectfully cooperate? Of course not.When I used to bother arguing about this issue with other San Franciscans, most of them fell back on the position that whatever a culture practiced was right for members of that culture as long as they didn't hurt anyone. I think this is a cop-out. First of all, not hurting others is as much of an imposed moral absolute as any other moral dictum. Plenty of cultures don't think it is wrong to hurt other groups with different religions, races, practices, etc. Secondly, this denies the volition of individuals to reject a culture or moral system that they are born into. I cannot reconcile this with feminism. Many cultures think it is all right -- in some cases even a positive moral good -- for a man to beat his wife, for women to be denied equal rights, for unwanted female children to be killed or sold. Moral relativism is a luxury for those born into cultures which protect their rights and do not allow them to be victimized.

  • Nikki
    2019-06-05 01:44

    The Falling Woman is a slowish, atmospheric read which got hooks into me and wouldn’t let go. I love the setting — the archaeological dig, the tensions of the excavation team, even the awkwardness between the long estranged mother and daughter… It feels like the kind of site it is: laden with history, meaning, and maybe even ghosts. It’s hard to describe, and to do so would be a disservice if you want to read the book, I think; the whole point is the slow unwinding, the building of tension and uncanniness, even threat.What’s also awesome is that this is a book populated with women — not all female characters, but still, a good proportion. And they talk to each other (about things other than men!), and work and get dirty and bitten by bugs and tired till they ache. They like or dislike each other, find it difficult to relate, enjoy one another’s company or avoid it, and it feels real. No tokenism here (though perhaps a bit of racial stereotyping around the boyfriends the younger women pick up during their time off), and no false utopia either. Things are complicated, sometimes things aren’t even solved, and Murphy handles it well.Definitely don’t read introductions or summaries, for this one. Give it time to reveal itself to you — I think you’ll be glad if you do.Originally posted here.

  • Kelly
    2019-06-10 02:24

    Archaeologist Elizabeth Butler has a secret: she can see the shades of people from the past, going about their daily activities. This talent has led to plenty of “lucky hunches” in her career but also to questions about her sanity. Normally she just sees the past scenes playing out in front of her but cannot affect them in any way. But while excavating the Maya city of Dzibilchaltún, she encounters a shade who can speak to her: Zuhuy-kak, a priestess of the Maya moon goddess. The Maya believed that time is cyclic, and Zuhuy-kak sees in Liz a chance to bring certain events in her own life full circle.At the same time, Liz’s daughter Diane has come to Dzibilchaltún to see her mother, from whom she has been estranged for many years. The two women try warily to build a relationship even as strange occurrences mount up and Liz begins to fear for Diane’s safety. “You will find here only what you bring,” Liz tells us at the beginning of The Falling Woman, and Liz and Diane have brought a complex tangle of love, hatred, fear, and guilt.Both women keep their emotional distance from the reader, though, for most of the book. This is consistent with the characters’ personalities and histories, and this reserve is skillfully evoked in Pat Murphy’s prose. Sentences are often clipped, and until late in the novel there’s little internal monologue about emotions. Instead the narration focuses on gestures, dialogue, and the external sights that the women see — at least until emotion breaks through the metaphorical dam at the intense climax.The Falling Woman is an insightful novel about mother/daughter relationships and about culturally relative definitions of sanity. Another issue, that of conquest or colonialism, is not explicitly discussed yet is ever-present. The conquest of the Maya by the Toltecs loomed large in Zuhuy-kak’s life, and in the present day, it’s hard to miss that the Maya still live in the area and that Maya laborers are doing most of the unsung physical work at Dzibilchaltún.The ending is satisfactory, if slightly open-ended, and through my own lenses I can’t help but see it as perfectly fitting. The ending Murphy wrote, to me, is the resolution of the mistake Zuhuy-kak really made as opposed to the mistake she thinks she made.As I write this, it’s 2011 and there’s a great deal of buzz about the Maya, due to the persistent legend that the Maya calendar predicts the end of the world in 2012. In fact, when I walked into my workplace cafeteria to read some of The Falling Woman during lunch, a television was playing a History Channel special about the Maya. (I couldn’t hear a word of it, but it provided some stunning visuals to go with my reading!) In the spirit of everything coming around again, perhaps now is a good time to rediscover this thought-provoking book.

  • Tim
    2019-05-30 02:22

    Perhaps I'm just optimistic, but I expected more from an award winning book. Then again, maybe I should have known better; one of the comments on the back of the book was that the writing is "generally above average". If that's the best thing you can find to put on a book cover, watch out.I don't have a lot of bad things to say about the book. But neither do I have a lot of good things to say about it. The characters were strong, but I just didn't quite care about them. The details of an archaeological dig were interesting, but not fully believable or compelling [full disclosure; I'm an archaeology junkie who reads archaeology periodicals regularly]. The main character's psychological issues were well-drawn, but difficult to believe in, or sympathize with. The prose includes descriptions of settings that evoke mental images, but which fail to fully evoke emotions of awe, or satisfaction, or loneliness, or danger that would transform those images into art.It never descends to the depths of bad writing, but it never climbs to the level of great writing, either. It floats along in that space where you have to keep reading because the story has 'potential', but never fully realizes the potential and so, is ultimately disappointing.I keep coming back to that comment about the "generally above average" writing. That comment fits; it is generally, but not consistently, above average. And that's not good enough; my expectations for winners of "big" awards run high. In the end, all I could think of was that the competition for Nebulas must have been pretty weak in 1986.

  • Charles Dee Mitchell
    2019-05-25 00:35

    When one of the local workers on a Yucatan archeological site breaks his ankle, the local hospital fixes him up but his mother, the cook for the archeological team, insists that the local curandera be brought in to check him out as well. This old woman also wants to meet Elizabeth Butler, the middle-aged and well-known leader of the team. She identifies Butler as a witch.Butler is not bothered by this opinion. She can even appreciate it. All her life she has lived with shadows of the past inhabiting her world. This has made her an excellent archeologist, although on this dig for the first time one of these "shadows" has begun to speak to her. But Butler knows that a witch has power, which is better than being crazy, a diagnosis that removes your power and puts you under the power of others. She has been considered crazy in her life as well. Years before, when she saw no way out of a marriage that was suffocating her, she slit her wrists. This suicide attempt got her institutionalized. When she got out, she abandoned her husband and small daughter, went back to school, and began the life she has now. The unannounced arrival of Diane Butler, the daughter she abandoned twenty years before, initiates the action of Falling Woman. Diane's father has died and her married lover has called an end to their affair. She has come to Dzibilchaltun to reconnect with her mother, for reasons she cannot clearly articulate even to herself. She finds an awkward place among the graduate students and other faculty who work the site, and she too begins to see shadows of the past.There are a few ways out of the fantastic elements of the plot for readers resistant to the reality of what Diane and Elizabeth experience. Bad luck can be just that and have nothing to do with the fact that a particular day is under the sign of the jaguar in his night aspect. Diane's earliest visions come after smoking some of the very good local weed. Elizabeth Butler has developed a serious fever with the oncoming of the rains and she could also be crazy. She admits as much and insanity could be genetic. But Murphy's story is not a game with the reader over what really happens. Elizabeth Butler is in communication with a priestess of the moon goddess who survived a sacrificial plunge into the deep cenote at Chichen Itza 900 years ago. This vision has a message, or more like an demand, to pass on to Elizabeth about blood sacrifice. Elizabeth understands the agony of this being, but should her allegiance be to the living or the dead? Murphy uses this question to build a suspenseful story that is also a realistic depiction of the back-breaking work of archeology and the experience of young Americans in Mexico in the 1980's.

  • Ron
    2019-05-26 20:38

    “Each culture defines its idiosyncrasies and then forgets it has done so.”Maybe 4.5 stars. An exceptionally fine story which defies neat genre assignment. It won a Nebula Award (1988), so I feel somewhat safe calling it fantasy, but this is a great, thought-provoking tale for any reader. “One frightens oneself; it is not the shadow that frightens us.” Published in 1986, it argues against the proposition that women didn’t write or weren’t recognized for writing first-class fantasy and science fiction. In fact, all the major characters of this tale are women. The men seem included merely for verisimilitude.“Archeologists are anthropologists who don’t like people.”Much good information about the ancient Mayans and the field of archeology, without the clumsy data dumps so intrusive in so many novels. It also explores how mothers and daughters have extra power to drive each other crazy and/or help each other out of it. Good job.“Many people we call insane are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Quibble: The paragraphing is so awkward that the reader must often stop to puzzle out who is acting or speaking the actor often changes midway through paragraphs.“The dead teach us things.”

  • Nicholas Whyte
    2019-06-13 21:46[return][return]This is a very good book, one of those rare but welcome moments when the Nebula process picked up on a real gem of a novel that had been overlooked elsewhere, even though it is only barely a genre novel, if anything more of a ghost story than sf or fantasy. The plot concerns an estranged mother and daughter, the former a famous archaeologist working on a Mayan site in the Yucatan, the latter escaping from a set of bad relationships to track down her mother, and the mother's ability to see the ghosts of the past (which has incidentally helped her get lucky with spectacular finds during her career). The writing alternates between first-person POV's of the two women. The third character is a Mayan priestess buried on the site who attempts to project her own life experiences onto the modern women. The writing is gripping and convincing, and although several of the layers of significance are pretty explicit, it worked for me. I'm glad it worked for the 1987 Nebula voters too.

  • Monica
    2019-05-30 02:22

    Liz is an archaeologist. Due to unusual circumstances, she left her daughter, Diane, and divorced her husband approximately fifteen years prior. Now Diane wants answers regarding the past and her own unusual circumstances. Who knows, maybe tracking her mother down on an archaeological dig may be good for both of them?A vividly descriptive narrative with mulit-laeveled mysteries winds throughout while characters search for meaning and for who they are individually and together.Characters are diverse, authentic, flawed, and intriguing.Overall, an intriguing read.

  • Kat
    2019-06-12 21:36

    Pat Murphy’s The Falling Woman (1986), which won the Nebula Award, reads like literary fiction, with a touch of mysticism. (Perhaps it wouldn’t have been published without the SF label.) The setting is an archaeological dig on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. There are two heroines: the chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Elizabeth Butler, an archaeologist and expert on Mayan civilization, and her daughter, Diane, who was raised by her father but after his death shows up unnanounced at Elizabeth’s dig.Elizabeth barely knows her daughter. She was miserable in her marriage. After she attempted suicide and was locked up in a mental hospital for a year, she left her husband, moved to New Mexico, typed for a living, and got an education. Elizabeth’s “madness” has helped her make discoveries: she sees Mayan ghosts in temples and villages as she walks around the excavation sites. Her relationships with ghosts, and a casual friendship with her archaeologist colleague, Tony, are sufficient for her. She doesn’t like emotions dredged up.She is not a romantic. When a reporter interviews her for a popular women’s magazine, she says,"I dig through ancient trash…. I grub in the dirt, that’s what I do. I dig up dead Indians. Archaeologists are really no better than scavengers, sifting through the garbage that people left behind when they died, moved on, built a new house, a new town, a new temple. We’re garbage collectors really. Is that clear?”Diane obviously wants to get to know her aloof mother, but she also discovers she enjoys helping an archaeology graduate student survey the site. Then something eerie happens. Like her mother, she starts to see and hear Mayan ghosts."I dreamed that i heard voices, unfamiliar voices. In the private darkness behind my closed eyes, I listened, but I could not understand the language that the voices spoke."Ghosts never see Elizabeth, but something uncanny happens: a Mayan female prophet begins to talk to her. She tells Elizabeth that she did not “know that shadows dreamed.” Elizabeth learns more than she wants to about the gods and sacrifices. She has always in the past justified Mayan sacrifices as similar to the Christian Eucharist.The writing is eerily beautiful, and I loved this book. It is a classic about a mother-daughter relationship as well as SF.

  • Robert
    2019-05-31 18:18

    You can also find my review of The Falling Woman on my book blogI very strongly recommend reading this book without reading the blurb on the back cover (or the introduction), or even the summary on Goodreads. They give more of the direction of the plot away than they should.Elizabeth is an archaeologist on a dig in Central America. She can glimpse the past, especially at dusk and dawn. One day, one of the people she sees looks at her, and starts to talk to her...Diane is Elizabeth's daughter, joining her mother on the dig after her father / Elizabeth's ex-husband dies. Diane hasn't seen her mother since childhood, and isn't sure what she has gone out to find.The book tells the story in chapters alternating between the two viewpoints. It starts out intriguing, building up a world and characters carefully, one step at a time. Gradually, it gains tension, a sense of the uncanny, a foreboding feel...This is a rare novel: it is speculative fiction where most of the characters are women. Not just women, but realistic, credible women, complex, competent, sometimes confused or confusing, sometimes sweaty and smelly, sometimes unkind and uncommunicative and flawed. There are male characters in the novel too, also convincing and authentic, but at its heart, the plot is driven by a triangle of female characters. The world-building is superb, and the cultural differences between Americans, local present day residents, urban and rural people, older and younger people, and the past native tribal characters, all these cultures are drawn superbly and convincingly and with a deft, subtle hand. This novel is set in a rich world, where each character, even if only appearing in a single scene, has a reality of his/her own, with a sense of a full life and their own concerns.Combine the rich world building with detailed, convincing and compelling characters, and set them in a plot that gradually gears up tension, and you are in for a literary treat. This novel won a Nebula Award - it deserves every award it could feasibly win. It's a masterpiece.

  • Heather A
    2019-06-24 22:37

    I received a copy from Netgalley.I had a nice email from a lady in the digital marketing department for Open Road Media offering an invitation to review the title via Netgalley. The novel sounded interesting, and I usually like things with Mayan history. I find the Maya rather fascinating. And the way this novel was described in the email I got it really did sound like something I would enjoy. However, I just did not like this book much at all, and after 40% I'm just not interested in reading any more. I tried skimming through, but really just didn't find much to keep me reading. So I'm DNFing. I didn't like the characters much, the main character, an older lady archaeologist came across as obnoxious and some what full of herself. I liked her adult daughter Diane a little better. Elizabeth sees ghosts on her digs, which was mildly interesting. The dig site was a little more interesting and the people working there. But a lot of the Mayan information filtered through the novel feels more like I'm reading a text book or report rather than a novel. The plot was very very slow and not much seems to be happening other than people working at an archaeological site. Even with the appearance of Mayan ghosts/spirits I'm just frankly not that interested. Thank you to Netgalley and Open Road Media for your invitation, but this book was not my taste at all.

  • Suzanne
    2019-06-05 20:29

    This Nebula-award-winning book is magical realism rather than science fiction. Unlike others that I've read recently, this author is not shy about accepting the supernatural aspects of the work. There is no attempt to explain it away -- not even with the use of space aliens! At the same time, it is a psychological novel, where the supernatural reflects the natural. The Mayan belief in the cyclical nature of time provides the framework for the plot as well as the theme, yet the real question is whether we can exercise our will and break free of our own past.

  • Daniel
    2019-06-03 21:30

    I received an electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley.Pat Murphy's name and writing were only familiar to me from the nonfiction articles that she coauthors for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Always interesting and well written, I was excited for the opportunity to read some of her fiction, this one a Nebula award winner.Structured as alternating chapters between the points of view of Elizabeth, a respected archeologist leading an expedition studying Mayan ruins, and her estranged daughter Diane, the book explores dichotomies that exist within us all and how these influence both the individual and relationships. A certain conflicting contrast is present throughout "The Falling Woman" at al levels. There is the realism/fantastic divide in its genre: it could arguably be either a fantasy novel, or firmly grounded in reality. Elizabeth is haunted by her past, and by visions of ghosts, such as the Mayans who continue to wander the ruins and talk to her, sharing their own secrets, and their own world views. Unsure if she is crazy, or merely 'gifted', Elizabeth, and the reader are forced to consider whether it matters, or whether the two possible extremes can exist comfortably side by side. The novel also delves into cultural divides, of being Western or Mayan, from the United States or a Mexican, Christian or 'pagan'. How are these each different, and how might they be surprisingly similar? However most prevalently, the book explores the dichotomies of male/female and mother/daughter. Elizabeth's eccentricities and uncertain sanity are tied to emotional pains she has dealt with in her life to varying success. She has cut herself and has attempted suicide. These and other darkness led her to separation from her husband, and abandonment of her daughter. Unable to conform to the accepted societal maternal position, and female submissive position, Elizabeth goes out on her own, to deal with her emotional darkness, gain a college education, and try to find a passion for something in life. Diane as a result, views her mother as a mystery, but with love and devotion despite her abandonment, Diane seeks Elizabeth out, and together begin to evoke certain maternal aspects in each of them, and deeper connections.The emotional frailty of Elizabeth, relatively frowned upon by traditional American society is contrasted nicely with the maternal cultures of the Mayan, with their infant sacrifices. Similarly it is contrasted with the traditional, and largely accepted, male answer to addressing emotional pain: drunkenness. Filled with these sorts of relationship complexities and profound insight in feminist and other cultural matters, "The Falling Woman" is simply a brilliant novel. The writing is simple and straight-forward, but in that way it is delicate and poignant, precise, without ever being over-bearing or too frenetic. Although marketed as SciFi/Fantasy, this is far closer to a literary novel, and fans wanting hard genre adventure may be disappointed with what is here. But those open to exploring dichotomies of culture and characters will find this richly rewarding. Open Road Media, who is publishing this in ebook format, is putting out other works by Murphy as well, and I am definitely putting those on my list to pick up.

  • Koeur
    2019-06-08 18:37 Open Road Publishing Date: April 2014 ISBN: 9781480483149 Genre: fantasy Rating: 1.5/5Publisher Description: When night falls over the Yucatan, the archaeologists lay down their tools. But while her colleagues relax, Elizabeth Butler searches for shadows. A famous scientist with a reputation for eccentricity, she carries a strange secret. Where others see nothing but dirt and bones and fragments of pottery, Elizabeth sees shades of the men and women who walked this ground thousands of years before. She can speak to the past—and the past is beginning to speak back. As Elizabeth communes with ghosts, the daughter she abandoned flies to Mexico hoping for a reunion. She finds a mother embroiled in the supernatural, on a quest for the true reason for the Mayans’ disappearance. To dig up the truth, the archaeologist who talks to the dead must learn a far more difficult skill: speaking to her daughter.Review: There are a couple of covers floating around for this novel. I really like this one.This was originally published in 1987 by Tor and won the Nebula Award. Why Open Road Media is re-publishing this drivel is beyond me.Wow, the Nebula. Was no one else writing anything of note that year? Did George RR Martin just one day in 1987, say “Fuck it. I am done writing for awhile. I need some time off to draw some weeners.” This was the era of Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven, David Brin, William Gibson and Greg Bear for fucks sake. Is this a case where a review panel fell in love with the notion that iterative dialogue, if psychotic enough, deserves some ass-play? I am going to have to hang up writing reviews if this POS seriously won the Nebula. Eighty five percent of the novel is Mom/daughter drama and endless dialogue. Then throw in some spots from “I see dead people…er…Mayans” and that is it. There is a faint rejoinder at the end that we may have a sequel to look forward to. Seriously, I would rather have a sockeye salmon shoved up my ass. You know what, I need to get over myself. This happened in 1987. 1987 was a damn good year for me. I finished college at my fourth university, Stevie Ray Vaughan was Live in Nashville, and …….ok, it was a lame year in history (Except for the SRV Nashville thing) so maybe it was time to elevate a novel based on daily happenstance, the dialogue that ensues and dead people talking. I guess if you make your main character demonstrably “Eccentric” and olde (yes old-ay) at 51 years, then fuck, here’s your Nebula. You could literally walk around for the rest of your miserable life surprising people with your award. Even if you wrote nothing, say for forever, you could still bash someone over the head with that award and have nuns chenuflecting at your feet. I feel like Lewis Black. I am so pissed off right now, I have this degenerative scream that fails to escape a frustrated throat crammed with curses. I could kick a puppy right now. Nah, I love dogs. I could seriously kick a kitten right now.

  • Naiya
    2019-06-14 18:32

    “I was mad because I said words they did not wish to hear, because they could not control me, they could not drag me along like a tethered dog. And so they said I was mad.”This is a story steeped in historical and visual details, and it's an elegant elegy to the intersection of past, present and the ghosts we carry with us. It is a fantasy or science fiction story only in the sense that the veil is thin between the every-day world and the world of the shadows of history. These fantastic elements are a setup for the deeply human story of a troubled successful archaeologist, a young daughter trying to find her way as her world begins to change around her, and the uneasy search for connection between the two.When Elizabeth, an archaeologist with a track record of making incredible discoveries, looks at a historic site, she sees not just the ruins, but the ghosts of the people and civilizations that once existed there. It’s a gift she’s learned to live with, and keeps secret lest it gets her labeled crazy and thrown out of academia and into a hospital. But her simple archaeological routine is shattered when, during an investigation of ancient Mayan ruins, the shadow of a long-dead priestess sees Liz and speaks to her...and Liz’ daughter arrives out of the blue, mourning her father’s death and hoping to reconnect with her mother.It is also a story about the consequences of defiance and the cost (and possibility) of denying society’s expectations. Liz is a woman who walks out of step with society and its expectations, and pays for it in small ways and large. Her fierce lifelong battle for independence and her belated decision to opt out of the domestic dream cost her. And it’s this life that finds eerie parallels with the defiant life and death of a ghost of a Mayan priestess from more than a millennia ago.It all builds up to a crescendo of bad luck, the turning of the Mayan calendar, a long-forgotten goddess of suicide and healing, and a sacrifice that is being demanded of Elizabeth and her daughter.It is a lovely, beautifully-crafted more-lit-than-sci-fi piece with compelling characters and a gorgeous historic backdrop.

  • Yzabel Ginsberg
    2019-05-26 00:30

    Quite a strange read. Interesting concepts and description of Mayan culture (I won't comment about whether it's exact or not, as I don't know enough about it as of yet), seen through both the prisms of archaeology and of visions of "shadows of the past". Interesting mother/daughter relationship, too, since Elizabeth and Diane have been estranged from years, and neither does know how to take the right steps to mend the gap.In general, I liked how human relationships were portrayed in this novel. There is not totally right or totally wrong, and even the people who behave as assholes aren't shown as a surprise: other characters aren't stupid, they kind of expect the outcome they may (and will) get, and while it's somewhat bleak, at least the author dosn't come up with excuses (the characters' "excuses" are feeble and shown as such).Interesting as well was the depiction of how society reacts to "strong women". Zuhuy-kak was a strong-willed priestess, and her enemies deemed her as mad. Elizabeth wanted to have a life of her own, something that clashed with her husband's expectations of her, and so she was deemed as unstable. Perhaps that theme felt stronger in the 1980s-early 1990s, when the book was first published, but I think it still hits home today—society has changed... but not so much.On the other hand, I felt let down by the high stakes the blurb led me to expect: more danger, more drastic choices... that never really took place, or not in a dramatic enough fashion as to really make me feel that Elizabeth and/or Diane was threatened. I would've liked to see something closer to a resolution when it came to the mother-daughter relationship, too. The novel's too open-ended, leaving room for more, when part of that "more" should've been included in it.

  • Lis Carey
    2019-06-11 21:28

    Elizabeth Butler is an archaeologist working a dig at a Mayan site in the Yucatan. In her mid-fifties now, she has a painful personal history of a failed marriage, a failed suicide attempt, and lost custody of and limited contact with her daughter, Diane.Diane Butler has lost her father, her boyfriend, and her job over the course of a couple of weeks, and for reasons she doesn't herself entirely understand, seeks out her famous and long-absent mother.Diane has been having disturbing dreams, in which she is falling from a great height into a dark void.Barbara has always seen shadows of the past, watched the long-dead inhabitants of the sites she studies going about their daily lives. It has given her a reputation for remarkably accurate and valuable hunches, but also a reputation for being very eccentric. Now one of the shadows, a priestess of the Mayan moon goddess from just before the disappearance of Maya civilization, has started speaking to her.I knew when I began reading that I was taking up a very well-regarded but older novel, not just set but written in the mid-eighties, a time with in some respects a very different sensibility. Especially given its then-contemporary setting, I had some reservations, thinking that it might come off as a period piece. It didn't.The writing drew me in and built a Yucatan that, whether real or not, felt real as I was reading it. The heat, the powerful sun, and the buried, ancient city all seemed palpable. The core of the novel, the relationship between Elizabeth and Diane, and the slowly revealed agenda of the Mayan priestess, is rich and intricate and beautifully developed.I really could not put this one down. Highly recommended.I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

  • Nancy Butts
    2019-06-22 21:39

    I'm not quite sure how to classify this book, which I got for free from the iTunes store via a Starbucks promotion. Apparently this won the Nebula Award in 1988, so does that make it science fiction? To me, it seemed more like an episode from the X-Files, but it is a mesmerizing novel. It's told in alternating voice of Elizabeth Waters, a 51-year-old archaeologist who habitually sees ghosts from the past, and is perfectly comfortable with that. She abandoned her husband and daughter years ago after a suicide attempt, feeling out of sync with the rest of the world. The other voice is that of her adult daughter, who flees to a dig in the monte of the Yucatan Peninsula to get to know her mother after her father's early death. [Note: it cracks me up that the author keeps having Elizabeth talk about herself, and others her same age, as "old." She's only 51! The author must have been young herself when she wrote this.] There story seems almost like a "straight" literary novel, a family drama for female readers, except for those passages where Elizabeth–and later her daughter Diane as well—see the Mayan ghosts. But both of them are so matter-of-fact about it that it doesn't seem like the usual ghost story; it's all woven together with the story of their tense relationship.I enjoyed the book immensely, everything from the portrayals of both women and their relationship, to the portrayals of others on the dig, of Mexico itself, and of course of the ancient Mayans and their way of life. The ending reminds me a lot of Henry James' Turn of the Screw: so are Elizabeth and Diane crazy, or is the whole word really haunted by people that most of us simply do not see?

  • Lauren
    2019-06-21 02:41

    Themes of human sacrifice run through this book, which may get uncomfortable for some after a while. The characters are rich and familiar. A bored graduate student. The timely friend. A lecherous young man at a camp who seems to mean well. An old venerable scholar with a drinking problem. And a woman who sees ghosts who is visited by her daughter. I often wondered, throughout this book, whether Diane herself was a ghost. However, she has too many interactions with others, and physical ones that are not possible in this book, to be one of Liz's ghosts. Overall, this is a colorful book with dark themes about what it is to be 'crazy' and what it is to struggle in a situation that is not yours and to go seeking answers. That is, in fact, the theme of the book - the lengths that people will go to in order to find answers or an escape from a difficult situation. Liz ran away from her family to go to school and become an archaeologist to deal with her ghosts. After her father's death, Diane followed her mother to deal with those lingering memories of a woman who abandoned her. Tony, the venerable archaeology professor, drinks heavily to forget about his wife's death. And the Maya, including the mysterious woman that Liz sees in the shadows, sacrificed their people by throwing them into wells in order to obtain the prophecies that they so depended on for their daily lives and to get the answers they needed to deal with their invaders. That, really, is what this book is about, I think. It's a colorful story with rich characters set in an interesting place that drew me in. I very much enjoyed my visit to this dig site and my time spent getting to know these characters.

  • Janito Vaqueiro Ferreira Filho
    2019-06-11 21:27

    I would dare call this a masterpiece. This is a beautiful book for those that like deeper literature. Classifying it as science-fiction may seem odd, but completely valid because this book develops its own scientific world in archaeology and history. Because I don't know much about archaeology or Mayan history, it's hard for me to judge how well researched the book was, but it seemed completely believable and there just didn't seem to be any moment I had to "suspend belief" in its science (differently from what is common on more soft science fiction books, with stasis fields, anti-gravity and alien technology).The book also has its mystical side, because some characters can see spirits of the past on the dig sites. This might seem to break the science aspect of the book, but it doesn't. It's an integral part of the story and is treated both as if the characters might be mad and as something that's not explained by science. This gives the book an even more realistic feeling.I can't really give justice to the plot by attempting to describe it. It's the story of a mother, her daughter and a spirit from the past, and how they connect with each other. The beauty of the story is how the mother and daughter slowly reunite and create bonds after many years separated.I absolutely loved this book. The characters are wonderful, the writing is excellent, the descriptions vivid, and the tiny clues and symbols you catch throughout the book make it extremely fun. That said, I do understand this is not a book for all tastes.

  • Daniel
    2019-06-08 18:37

    This was a strange book.The first part, and by that I mean the first 60-70%, just seems like a lot of dangling themes. The story of an archaeologist with a 'gift' that seems to cause no real conflict. A history that doesn't really seem to inform. A story of a mother-daughter relationship when they really have had no relationship at all. Frankly it drove me nuts expecting something to happen and certain confrontations to occur and it seemed like it would never happen.And then...excitement.(view spoiler)[Psychotic ghosts and screaming and one-night stands and death and child sacrifice and a chase through dark caverns and rescues and acceptance. All in the last 100 pages or so.I appreciate that the 'gift' isn't presented as an obvious burden. It seems common for the character with the 'gift' to bemoan it and wax on about how it ruined their life. Liz never suggests that. She's accepted the gift and used it. She never says it caused her instability or her shortcomings as a wife and mother, but she's certainly careful not to let anyone know because she realizes they'll lock her up again. When her daughter starts manifesting the gift, too, you can see what the mother might have gone through. In the end, you get the sense that the daughter will be OK because the mother will be there to guide her. (hide spoiler)]The first part of the book is maddening, but the last part makes up for it.

  • Paula
    2019-06-09 18:24

    I read this novel for NetGalley. This is my honest opinion of the book.I love a really good ghost story. “The Falling Woman” is that and so much more. I’m not going into finer points of plot and character – other reviewers have adequately discussed those topics. This review is about why I enjoyed the book and am recommending it to other readers.This expertly and lovingly crafted novel examines the relationship between archaeologist Elizabeth Butler and her estranged daughter Diane. The novel’s setting is Mexico, circa mid-80’s, where Elizabeth and her archaeological team are excavating ancient Mayan ruins. Elizabeth sees and speaks with long dead Mayans, in particular a vengeful priestess who attempts to extract a great sacrifice from Elizabeth.Great literature (and I’m placing this novel in that category – the Nebula Awards committee did as well, 27 years ago) does more than distract and entertain. Great literature explores issues central to our lives. As “Blade Runner” asked the question “What is human”?, “The Falling Woman” presents three key issues: 1) What does it mean to be a parent, 2) What is sanity, and 3) What is reality. Pat Murphy’s subtle and skillful writing brings these topics front and center while providing a fascinating story rich in Mayan culture and lore.More than a good read – a great read!

  • Bandit
    2019-06-24 19:38

    I picked this book up because I find the subjects of archeology and mayan cultures fascinating and also I've read something by Murphy before, which I liked. This book I liked, but not loved and I am trying to figure out why. Murphy is an extremely capable writer, she excels at character development and this book is a shining example of the complicated nuanced flawed human beings (mostly women) of her creation. On the other hand this isn't marketed as a drama, it is very definitively classified as a fantasy and it's an odd fit into that genre. Sure, there are various kinds of fantasy and the genre definition can be made elastic, but this was somehow all too serious, this was more like a heavy mother daughter drama with mayan themed hallucinations. I see it won Nebula Award when it was published, but Nebula is usually science fiction or fantasy and this is really more of a haunted dig site story with an ancient mayan ghost. Sort of like She Sees Dead Mayans. I suppose it was a heavier read than I anticipated. I thoroughly enjoyed the mayan historical and cultural insights. It was a good read, emotionally intelligent, original and well written. Something was missing here though, something that's difficult to identify. Might be that I just didn't care very much for the characters, however well realized they were. Quick read, just under 3 hours.

  • Fantasy Literature
    2019-05-31 23:25

    Archaeologist Elizabeth Butler has a secret: she can see the shades of people from the past, going about their daily activities. This talent has led to plenty of “lucky hunches” in her career but also to questions about her sanity. Normally she just sees the past scenes playing out in front of her but cannot affect them in any way. But while excavating the Maya city of Dzibilchaltún, she encounters a shade who can speak to her: Zuhuy-kak, a priestess of the Maya moon goddess. The Maya believed that time is cyclic, and Zuhuy-kak sees in Liz a chance to bring certain events in her own life full circle.At the same time, Liz’s daughter Diane has come to Dzibilchaltún to see her mother, from whom she has been estranged for many years. The two women try warily to build a relationship even as strange occurrences mount up and Liz begins to fear for Diane’s safety. “You will find here only what ... Read More:

  • Ben
    2019-06-07 22:30

    Falling Woman was about a lot, although not a lot happens over the course of the novel (or maybe it's just the problem of summarizing a plot that's only loosely rooted in concrete things...). Mother / daughter. Past / present. Science / history. Oh, and madness and, um, intuition? Insight? Something like that. I appreciated the textured descriptions, and the "slowness" of the book didn't make for a slow read at all; I was pulled through to the end. An air of mystery whirled around the whole thing, although that wasn't really the point that I read. I started Falling Woman not really knowing what to expect, and I imagine the same thing will be true for the next book I read of Pat Murphy's...

  • Lia /|\
    2019-06-11 01:21

    At first I wanted more than the few snippets about the "ghosts" the heroine always sees, before jumping into the action of the first one who has ever talked TO her. But then I realized that that was what was so exciting about the book. The general premise is yummy! And so if you overdo it in the beginning, the reader would be all, "yeah yeah we know, she sees people from the past" but this way, you can throw more snippets in later, and the reader will be lapping it up.And I did lap it up. It was an enjoyable read. Good characterizations. Life at an archaeological dig. Magic and ancients. Trial-by-cave. Good stuff.

  • Sunflower
    2019-06-22 00:25

    This book is just weird enough for me to give it 4 stars. The career mother who abandoned her daughter, and who had an unusual ability which gave her an advantage in the world of archaeology, is surprised by the sudden appearance of her daughter whom she barely knows but who has just lost everything, and arrives at the site of the current dig. The relationship between these two, and some previous occupants of the site is the basis of the story, told in alternate chapters by the two present-day women. The Mayan calendar and Gods also feature, and in the past they have had to be appeased with sacrifice-the falling woman of the title is one who was thrown into the cenote as an offering.

  • Lila
    2019-06-17 18:20

    Set mostly in Yucatan during an archeological dig, this book is full of atmosphere and suspense. It totally drew me in. It is perfect read for readers like me who like their fantasy based in reality and like the interpersonal relations to be just as important, if not more, as the fantastical elements. And it helps to be interested in the ancient Mayas! This is the first time I've read anything by Pat Murphy and I look forward to discovering more of her books!

  • Kay
    2019-05-25 20:26

    This is a combination of a variety of my favorite books: The China Garden (Liz Berry), The Dark Garden (Margaret Buffie), and Waking the Moon (Elizabeth Hand). It also reminds me a bit of Caitlin Kiernan's The Red Tree, in that it's quietly creepy, though the main characters aren't as isolated as Kiernan's was, but the pervasive sense of dread is definitely present.The ending was a bit of a let-down, but not enough to make me dislike it.

  • Linda Shields
    2019-06-21 23:30

    A dark and compelling novel where the past and present are twisted together so tightly that the characters, and the reader, are never sure of what's real, remembered or doomed to occur. I've re-read this novel so many times I feel like I've time travelled through it myself. Definitely not recommended for anyone coping with major depression.