‘All the Good Things’ is the debut novel from Clare Fisher and what a debut it is; from the opening paragraph to the closing sentence. ‘All the Good Things’ is reminiscent of a rollercoaster ride that I never wanted to end and observing the aftermath of a car crash that I couldn’t turn away from. A literary onslaught from the get go from a relatively unknown writer told with such bold brilliance it’s hard to believe that you are not reading the work of a seasoned professional at the peak of their career.
‘All the Good Things’ tells the story of Twenty-one-year old Bethany or Beth, our main protagonist. We learn early on that she is in prison for doing a ‘very bad thing’. Fisher does a brilliant job of hiding this from us triggering the tempo of the book to be well paced bringing about a wonderful thought-out conclusion.
Beth believes that trying to suppress ‘very bad thing’ means that she doesn’t deserve to feel good again. Enter Beth’s counsellor Erika, who starts a journey of redemption with her that at times is heartwarming and at times shockingly bold, harrowing and relevant to todays society. Beth is given a notebook by Erika and is asked to write down ‘All the Good Things’ about her life experiences instead of focusing on the bad thing she did. The thing about bad things is that they always find their way out in the end.
‘Of all the good things that have ever been 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 nothing at all.’
It’s not very often that within the first line of a book I feel such an emotional connection to a writers work. Which at first shocked me. I was immediately pulled into the mindset of Beth, from the first paragraph (above) – I don’t know whether this is because I am a father and understand what she’s saying or it was the deep compassionate voice of Fisher’s writing? I think the best explanation of this, is that it is both.
Colum McCann in ‘Letters to a Young Writer’ writes – ‘A first line should open up your rib cage. It should reach in and twist your heart backwards. It should suggest that the world will never be the same again.’
The chapters of the book comprise of the various ‘Good Things’ that Beth decides to write down and explore with us the reader. These are things such as ‘Friends you can be weird with’, Falling asleep with your legs tangled up in someone else’s’, ‘Reading out loud to people who listen’ and ‘When a baby bites your nipple like it will never let go’. It’s a wonderful ingredient to her storytelling and helps to give subtle insights into the mind of Beth and her emotional / mental state.
What blew me away with Fisher’s writing was her tremendous skill for the spoken word, she has an ear for conversation which helps the reader buy into the characterizations of her supporting cast. I used to work in a cinema in Ealing (West London) a long time ago now and I have to say it was like Fisher had crept into my brain in the quiet of the night and robbed my memories of this particular time and place and the people I worked with and became friends with and put it all down in her book. The subtle cadences woven into the cinema workers was remarkable, especially her friend and boss Chantelle (my boss spoke exactly like her) and the Chuckle Sisters (although mine were brothers – ‘to me to you’ not those brothers!). It was a world that in my opinion was very believable.
The underbelly of this book is something very brave and bold, coming at a time I believe that is very relevant and told in a compassionately arresting way. Fisher in her character Beth gives us for the want of a better word an expose of the care system and the mental health issues young people face and the pressures they have to fit in. It’s a startling insight of what it is to be human and fallible whilst exploring the inner strength needed to persevere in the sight of all consuming chaos when the odds are all stacked against you.
‘Then I looked at Linda. You could see right through her skin to her veins, and her cheekbones stuck out, but not in a model-way, in a bad way; my heart softened; how could you be angry with someone who’s hardly here?’
Fisher masterfully brings the book and it’s various challenging strands to a shockingly brilliant conclusion. Showcasing a maturity beyond her years, Clare Fisher is a writer I will be actively searching out in the coming years and a career we will be keeping tabs on. In my humble opinion this is a book that could and should be winning awards this time next year.
Fisher writes with an enthusiasm for her craft that I find is often missing from some of her contemporaries (debut novel writers). The books elegant language and structure has endeared her book to my heart. It’s not often that a book can punch you so hard in the gut that it lodges itself deep inside you. Becoming part of you. With ‘All the Good Things’ Fisher has done just that! I can honestly say that I can’t find fault with anything about her work – a truly stunning novel and a breathtakingly good debut.
If you like the work of James Frey ‘A Million Little Pieces’ and ‘My Friend Leonard’; ‘Rummies’ by Peter Benchley and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ by Ken Kesey then this book is for you – Fisher strings together elements of all these great writers and the comparisons are well within her repertoire. Clare Fisher is an original and significant voice in modern fiction that I would highly recommend you explore.
So why are you still sitting here? Go out and buy it…
Clare Fisher was born in Tooting, south London in 1987. After accidentally getting obsessed with writing fiction when she should have been studying for a BA in History at the University of Oxford, Clare completed an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. An avid observer of the diverse area of south London in which she grew up, Clare’s writing is inspired by her long-standing interest in social exclusion and the particular ways in which it affects vulnerable women and girls. All The Good Things is her first novel.
All The Good Things was published by Viking Books on 1st June 2017.
To discover more about Viking Books click here…
Review by Ross Jeffery
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