Autumn Camp by Barry Fowler

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Autumn Camp by Barry Fowler

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Beautifully written and with exquisite characterisation, this is a book to savour and enjoy. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 295 Date: May 2021
Publisher: Sentinel Projects
ISBN: 978-8732048704

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It was to be Brian's last camp. He'd founded the organisation some four years ago and had done all the organisation since but he was leaving school and the time had come to hand the reins to someone else. The obvious person was Gary, who'd always been the fun element of the camps and Brian had said that on this camp, Gary should act as the leader and he'd just be there to observe. The problem with this was that Gary wasn't really an organiser, an administrator if you like. He was the entertainer, the person who basked in the spotlight and made things fun - so Brian stepped in and did the organising. He handed the camp over - and then took it back. And Gary determined to have his revenge. This should have been his camp.

When you begin Autumn Camp you should relax: you're in safe hands. Don't try and remember the names of all the boys: they'll gradually emerge as individuals with their own personalities. There's a good spread of ages, from Paul who's nine and the new boy, through ten-year-old Justin (the all-round favourite of the leaders), eleven-year-old Murray, who's a bit of a plodder, his friend Alan who's energetic and fun, twelve-year-old Robin who's clumsy physically and socially, the lean and calculating thirteen-year-old Simon and Andrew and David. Then there were the leaders: Dan was there but he was a bit dumb and no one took him seriously. Bruce was the quiet perfectionist, the cook who respected Brian but preferred Gary's company. Yep - it's the sort of mixture you get in any boys' camp.

Despite being in charge, Brian - tubby and bear-like - can't stand up to Gary, who's tall, athletic and good looking. Even when Gary was bullying or being unkind to the younger campers he'd rather dodge the situation than face a confrontation. He's needy and Gary senses the weakness. How difficult can it be to defeat Brian, to humiliate him in front of the others and establish once and for all that he's the true leader of the camps?

Barry Fowler establishes the group dynamic quickly and efficiently. Brian's responsible but not respected, whilst Gary's liked but could be dangerously irresponsible: his leadership style is based on giving events the occasional nudge. His priorities didn't involve what was best for the group and even he didn't know what he would do next. Now - stories about boys' camps are not usually my thing but I was absolutely riveted by this story. It's deceptively gentle but there's a quiet, underlying air of menace that you can't ignore as Gary doesn't so much fail to plan as plan for a failure which can be blamed on Brian.

Fowler draws a wonderful picture of the location: you could feel it between your toes. Characterisation is exquisite and done with remarkably few words. The story is character-driven rather than plot-driven but I still found myself glued to the page as I wondered what would happen. I'll be happy to read whatever Fowler writes next and I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

If you've enjoyed Autumn Camp we think you'll also enjoy Jamie's Keepsake by Michael Gallagher.

You can read more about Barry Fowler here.

Booklists.jpg Autumn Camp by Barry Fowler is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2021.

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