I make no apologies for being mainly drawn to escapist comfort reading at the moment. It has hampered my reviewing though, a real problem with most literary fiction is that it tends to depict sadness more than joy, despair more than hope. It’s a rare book that manages to deal with weighty literary issues without getting drawn into the misery of it all.
‘All the Good Things’ by Clare Fisher is a delight in that it succeeds in playing both sides. The contents page reads as a list of ‘good things’ experienced by our narrator, including ‘When your mum wraps a scarf around your neck,’ ‘How cats can find sun to lie in, even on a cloudy day,’ ‘Friends you can be weird with’ and ‘When you’re so happy it hurts.’ It’s a list to warm anyone’s heart, as is the very first paragraph of the novel:
Of all the good things that have ever been in in me, the first and the best is you. Every single part of you, from your stroke-able earlobes to the hope curled up in your toes. Remember that. Remember it when the dickheads say you’re a bad or a so-what thing. Remember it when you’re convinced the good things are jammed behind other people’s smiles. Remember it the hardest when you feel like no thing at all.
As the opening lines show, this is a book about love and joy, with the knowledge that such moments are all the more precious for existing within a complicated, difficult world. Our narrator Bethany is in prison, and consumed by guilt. She is writing at the insistence of her counsellor; the exercise in positive thinking appears to be working for her, though it may have a very different impact on the reader. It doesn’t take long before the narrative reveals the pitiful modesty of Beth’s accumulated ‘good things.’ The love she felt for her first foster father (before he and his wife conceived their own child and she was passed to another family), her timid exuberance on finally making a real friend at school (before being moved to Somerset on a ‘Fresh Start’ scheme), her pride on getting a minimum wage job at the Streatham Odeon are all evoked with delicacy and precision, making you question the traumas that make the lives of most literary narrators so difficult.
There are so many things to admire about this debut, from the skilful management of the dual time frame to the sensitive presentation of social services to the brilliant depiction of South West London. What I’ll be taking away however, is the power of a positive narrator describing distressing times and subject matter. I’m well aware that I often delve into fiction in order to avoid facing the problems of life in the 21st century. ‘All the Good Things’ has not been an escapist read, but it has been a valuable one, helping me see my world through new, and maybe better, eyes.
I received a copy of ‘All the Good Things’ from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.