All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

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All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Stacey Barkley
Reviewed by Stacey Barkley
Summary: A piece of sound psychological fiction about how we become who we are.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241275757

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Sobering in its realism this is a debut that will force you to sit up and think.

Nature, nurture, chance and circumstance; all combine to produce the story of Bethany Mitchell, a young adult who writes from her prison cell. We know only that she has committed a 'bad thing', a bad thing that she sees as the end of her story. Armed with a simple task, Erika, a psychologist, sets out to challenge this. She asks Beth simply to compile a list of all the good things in her life.

Told through her writing in response to this task, we traverse back and forth between Beth's present and her past. We learn how she moved through the foster system family-by-family, place-by-place, until it was now, London, adult Beth, with no identity or family history to secure her in life. With no cohesive identity, and no roots, how does one move on if they've never really started?

Along the way to the bad thing a cast of characters moves in and, most usually, back out of Beth's life. With poignant clarity we see how each leaves an impact that paves the way for her actions. It is easy to level blame at some of these characters, and yet others are warm and seeking to love or help; they are ultimately pushed away by a young girl who knows not how to let them in; how could she when no one has ever stayed? And so she has to go it alone, blindly working to figure out the complex rules of life. The young Beth marvels at the bond she sees between a friend and their mother. The contrast between her own anger and frustration which remains unheard, and the power of a mother to transform teenage anger into laughter is a powerful and poignant one.

As the therapy continues Beth is propelled back to memories she has left behind, forced to re-see her past and ultimately to re-understand herself in the context of and as a product of her experiences. Can she find a life after the bad thing, or is 'bad' where her story begins and ends? The psychological leanings of this tale lend insight into what makes us who we care, what drives our actions. If earliest memories suggest only that we are bad, how can we become anything else?

The really clever thing here is that we are allowed to get to know Beth, to know her history and her inner thoughts before we learn what her crime is. The result is a tug against what we think we believe and know; we are challenged, and perhaps uncomfortably, we may find that we understand. Fiction this may be, but Fisher has taken a topic that we read of often and given us a different account; not that of professionals, or reports, but of the individual at the centre. Moved by Beth's story, I hope this is one that prompts thought about how we judge and interact with those in need.Evoking empathy where you might otherwise find none, this is well worth the read.

For another stunning mix of psychology and fiction, Emma Donoghue's Room is highly recommended.

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Buy All the Good Things by Clare Fisher at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy All the Good Things by Clare Fisher at


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