Book Review: We All Begin as Strangers, by Harriet Cummings

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 20th April 2017

We All Begin as Strangers reveals the deeply disguised strengths and vulnerabilities of neighbours in a 1980’s English Village.  Their hospitality and habits largely escape scrutiny until “the Fox” breaks through the frontier of their doorstep to intrude on their closely guarded private time.

Some consider their home a sanctuary, a place to feel relieved that the reality of their life is no longer on public display. Any hint of intrusion is understandably unsettling causing people to become fiercely protective of their little spaces, and when the going gets tough the odd mask starts to slip.

This story of “the Fox” is told in four parts where a different neighbour effectively becomes an unreliable witness to the bizarre antics of an intruder whose motives remain uncertain until the end. Their passion for justice is further ignited when a young, church-going woman goes missing from her own home and their main suspect the elusive character they have yet to identify.

How this unknown presence affects each of them and how their reactions manoeuvre in and out of each other’s stories is very interesting. The opinion they hold of each other alters as their lives are put under the microscope: the ‘Dallas’ / Sue-Ellen wannabe, a troubled lay preacher, an unexpected guardian of the vulnerable, and she who wears her dressing gown in public with pride.

Reading this made me consider just how well I really know the people living on my street, and I mean know. Yes, I see them coming and going on occasion and I’m free to make as many assumptions about them as I’d care to, but I’d most likely be wrong. Imagine how many people are walking around with a smile plastered on their face as they battle to control the isolation or misery they suffer from someone else’s ego in a silent, daily ritual. All of us try not to alert people to our problems to some degree or other, but if we disappeared without a trace while a predator stalked the neighbourhood our secrets would undoubtedly creep into the public domain, whether we wanted them to or not.

If you’re looking to be blown away by something wild and reckless with a breakneck pace then We All Begin as Strangers is not the book for you.  It is, however, a thought-provoking human mystery where people respond to their diverse crises in completely different ways. The actual news story that relates to this fictional take on the dreadful activities of the real-life “Fox” and the 80’s nostalgia makes for intriguing reading too.

Rating:  3.5/5

(I was lucky enough to win a signed proof copy of this title in a Twitter giveaway run by the publisher, Orion – it will have a special place on my shelf, so thank you.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

If you loved THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon, ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce, you’ll adore this wonderful British debut novel.

It’s 1984, and a heatwave is scorching the ordinary English village of Heathcote.

What’s more, a mysterious figure is slipping into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘The Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.

When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes The Fox is responsible.

But as the residents scramble to solve the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, little do they know it’s their darkest secrets The Fox is really after…

Inspired by real events, and with a brilliant cast of characters, WE ALL BEGIN AS STRANGERS is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.

BUY THE BOOK

(Courtesy of Author’s Website)

Represented by Janklow and Nesbit, Harriet is a debut novelist with a background in history of art and gender studies. As a script writer, she’s had work performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as independent venues around London.

While studying at Faber Academy, Harriet threw herself into her first novel and hasn’t looked back since. She is currently working on her second novel – another dark drama, set in Whitby.

She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and Springer Spaniel.

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