All the good things by Clare Sita Fisher
published by: Viking (Penguin UK) on 1 June 2017
What is the truth hiding behind her crime? Does anyone – even a 100% bad person – deserve a chance to be good?
‘Of all the good things that have ever been in me, the first and the best is you. Every single part of you… Remember that.’ On the first page of Clare Fisher’s debut novel we are lulled into the joy of ‘smelling a baby’s head right into your heart’. But the mood is immediately subverted when the narrator’s distinctive voice breaks through: ‘Remember it when the dickheads say you’re a bad or a so-what thing’, and we know we’re far from the cosy world of new motherhood.
Bethany (Beth) is twenty one, has had her own flat, a boyfriend and a baby, but now she’s angry, scared and in prison for a terrible crime she can hardly bring herself to think about. Her therapist, Erika asks her to ‘write down the good things’ about her life. For the first time in three weeks her hands stop shaking and she doesn’t’ mind the ‘blank space where the handle should be on the door’ because she’s thinking about her baby: ‘your eyelashes…the way you’d murmur in your sleep…the delicious smell of your head…’
Beth has a complete lack of confidence in herself and the lowest self-esteem possible. By being challenged to remember and to write down the ‘good things’, she gradually comes to term with the story of her life so far, which initially doesn’t look great: a mother with a severe mental health issue, a series of foster homes and an ongoing lack of stability. Each chapter is subtitled with one of the ‘good things’ in her life: when she goes running she feels the ‘real you rises up… you’re free’; she describes her friends and lovers, of happy successful times: sharing silences with Foster Dad No. 1, or flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays. But she still always has a sense of a terrible loss, and of being lost, waking up feeling as if there’s ‘a heavy person, who you don’t love or even know – lying on top of you.’ Beth talks about how difficult it is to control her emotions ‘I feel like there are all these bricks inside me… melt down into this… muddy river… spills out everywhere and makes a mess…’ Her life experiences have damaged her and she has a constant battle with ‘the bad voice… snarling at me’ that she will always fail. So why not make things fail.
Beth reads the devastating reports from social services and school teachers which show how her mother’s health impacted on her. But she realises that her mother loved her, and, writing about her own pregnancy, she recognises that the baby is ‘someone you’re not afraid of because they’re already as deep inside of you as it’s possible to be.’
By coming to terms with her own story, by retelling it in her own words, Beth finds that there have been, and are, good things in her life; and she finally allows herself to hope. Ultimately it’s her mother’s love and the love she feels for her own baby that save Beth. ‘We’ll let our stories grow.’
In this profoundly moving but surprisingly funny debut novel, Clare Fisher has given voice to people on the fringes of society, people with a story like any of us. She has given them pathos and dignity. Beth could be any young woman given the most difficult of starts in life.
This is a wonderful debut by a fantastically talented young writer with a social conscience. I look forward to her next novel.
Clare Fisher was born in Tooting, south London in 1987, has a BA in History from the University of Oxford and an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths. She now works as a bookseller in Leeds.
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 it affects vulnerable women and girls. All The Good Things is her first novel. (from Amazon)
Notes: Clare blogs at www.clarefisherwriter.com
Look out for my interview with Clare for ‘All the Good Things’ blog tour on Saturday 24th June 2017.