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The Falling Woman

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  1,525 ratings  ·  114 reviews
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 priest ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 1st 1993 by Orb Books (first published November 1st 1986)
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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,525 ratings  ·  114 reviews

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Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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)
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
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 u ...more
Dec 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 t ...more
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 archaeo
Charles Dee Mitchell
Jun 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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 inhabi
Nicholas Whyte[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 d ...more
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
You can also find my review of The Falling Woman on my book blog

I 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, jo
Lis Carey
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: f-sf, fiction
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 w
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, fantasy
“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 fic
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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 dive
Heather A
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 an
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 w ...more
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, a
Apr 07, 2014 rated it did not like it

Publisher: Open Road
Publishing Date: April 2014
ISBN: 9781480483149
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 1.5/5

Publisher 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 w
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
“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
Yzabel Ginsberg
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.
Nancy Butts
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 af ...more
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Janito Vaqueiro Ferreira Filho
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 (diffe ...more
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
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 s
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 s
Izzy Corbo
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Magical realism or psychotic hallucinations? This novel of Mayan archeology and mother-daughter tension moves along at a plodding pace, but fascinating nevertheless. I enjoyed the change in point of view from mother to daughter and to the book being written in between by the mother. If you have ever been to or wanted to go to Mexico and explore Mayan ruins you will find something to like in this unsettling novel.
Oct 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 a ...more
Fantasy Literature
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 t ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 thin ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, read-in-2009
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
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!
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, magical-realism
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
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
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“Each culture defines its own idiosyncracies and then forgets that it has done so.” 2 likes
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