Sent to me by Orion Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 20/04/17
Publisher: Orion Books
Format: Hardback, 320pp
Summed up in a word: Community
Thank you to Orion for sending me a copy of We All Begin As Strangers for review. I am conflicted about this book… It was not quite what I had in mind when I picked this book up and got excited about the brilliant premise. There are some quality elements included in the book but I think the fact that it didn’t meet my expectations, affected how I processed the book overall. I still happily recommend the book as I know there are many readers that will appreciate the narrative, I was just left wanting.
Heathcote, England – 1984
A mysterious figure is sneaking into homes through backdoors and open windows. Known locally as ‘the Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.
When beloved Anna disappears, everyone believes the Fox is responsible.
For the villagers, finding Anna will be difficult – but stopping the Fox from exposing their darkest secrets might just be impossible…
(p) 2017 Orion Publishing Group Ltd
We All Begin As Strangers is loosely inspired by true events that occurred in the 80’s in a small community called the Chiltern Hills in the U.K. An individual nicknamed ‘The Fox’ was slipping into people’s houses and messing around with their possessions. He was also known to make dens in unoccupied homes, hence the nickname. I am glad HC left the influences there as ‘The Fox’ went on to commit more terrible offences. I was really interested in this concept and I thought that it may actually be a great basis for a novel. While ‘The Fox’ has a presence in this novel, they are an afterthought really compared to the actual main plot surrounding Anna.
We All Begin As Strangers is centred around the disappearance of Anna, a young woman who was a key member of the community. The narrative is split between four members of the community. Each person has a drastically different standing in the neighbourhood. Deloris is an outsider who married the rising star of the community. Jim is a vicar who is yet to obtain his actual priesthood. Brian is a police officer way out of his depth. And Stan is conflicted and hiding his true self. Each of them need Anna in a different way and are desperate to confront ‘The Fox’, who they presume took her, and get her back.
Anna is an important member of the community. She has connections to everyone and her disappearance is felt deeply. People are left confused, worried and hurt by this development. As the search for ‘The Fox’ intensifies, the community unite to protect themselves. Although they are constantly suspecting one another, they begin to move as one, act as one and attack as one. The novel itself is not bad, I thought it was well conducted and had an important message. I just felt it was nothing like the novel I was expecting and it kind of put a dampener on my experience of it.
I was expecting thrills, secrets and intensity. We All Begin As Strangers is actually quite dark and oppressive. I felt the characters were all stuck in their lives, not wanting to be there and having other people pressure them into making the wrong decisions. My favourite story arc was actually Stan’s and that is because HC addresses a psychological effect that I have not really considered that much, and she does it with the utmost respect.
This is a novel about community, for better or for worse, but at least it is not an uncomfortable and claustrophobic piece. I enjoyed the ending very much and there were some very well placed, heartfelt and meaningful moments included. HC’s writing is interesting and I enjoyed the fact that she decided to play around with the narrative a little so you have to think a tad harder about what she is trying to convey. I also appreciated the fact that HC centred each chapter around a significant object, I felt it added a touch of much needed mystery to this novel. As I said before, WABAS is a well constructed piece, I just felt somewhat deflated as I was reading it and I didn’t really connect at all with the plot or the characters. If I had to pick a favourite character that would have to be Brian as I enjoy seeing an underdog triumph.
Overall I have given We All Begin As Strangers 3/5 because though there are some brilliant bits, I just wasn’t sold on the novel. I enjoyed themes like escapism, unity and gaining confidence in yourself and others. I did not get on with the characters very well and I felt the plot was just too light on ‘The Fox’…
About Harriet Cummings
Harriet Cummings is a freelance writer with a background in history of art and gender studies. As a script writer, she has 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 lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and springer spaniel.