Monday, 20 March 2017

We All Begin As Strangers


The debut novel from journalist, Harriet Cummings, is a piece of historical fiction set around the year 1984, a hot summer when a burglar universally referred to as 'The Fox' is terrorising the small village of Heathcote near Oxford.  Cummings' novel tells the story from four differing viewpoints - opening with Deloris, the policeman Robert, vicar and nice guy Simon.

The problem I had with the book was the difficult opening of Deloris, a character who is unhappy in her marriage and sets about leaving her husband, Harvey, including taking a job in a hotel in London.  Apart from mere mentions of the Fox breaking into neighbour's properties, the story focuses on her plight and it comes across as a bit needy and unnecessary to the plot.  When Deloris appears later in the book, she is better on the periphery.

The four differing viewpoints is something we have seen in all manner of popular culture, most famously Akira Kurosawa's 1951 film Rashomon, where the differing viewpoints alter the narrative and who is telling the truth when all people claim ownership of the truth.

In this novel, the truth is not fully revealed until the last viewpoint entwined with Simon's personal problems of identity, this leaves the reveal of the Fox as almost secondary and when it was revealed, it was somewhat out of nowhere and underwhelming.

This is a shame as I had high hopes for this novel with it's beautiful book cover and the setting of 1984 for social and political context.

In conclusion, this is a novel that will garner critical attention, but may struggle to capture the imagination of the mainstream reader.

We All Begin As Strangers is published by Orion Publishing on 20th April 2016

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