Friday 17 April 2020

Review by Rob Jones of "One Scheme of Happiness" by Ali Thurm

The fictional town of Holdersea is easy to picture if you’ve ever been to a seaside resort which has grown suburbs. The old lighthouse and the phenomenon of longshore drift are both recurring motifs in One Scheme of Happiness, a novel rich with metaphor and imagery - a real writer’s read.

The narrator, Helen, a forty-something homebody who has been caring for her mother for twenty years, understandably finds herself lacking direction when her mother passes away. Having lived in one house in one town all her life, its features and people crowd around her, especially when her childhood “best friend” Vicky and her husband Sam, another friend from school days, move back to Holdersea with their two children. Vicky quickly reconnects with Helen, who in turn becomes infatuated with Sam.

The narration is one of the strengths of the novel, by turns poetic, unreliable and with moments of obvious dramatic irony. Seldom does it fall into the trap of being too conversationalist, especially considering the overall structure. Helen frequently reminisces about her childhood, showing rather than telling the reader about Vicky’s abusive, controlling tendencies and drip-feeding background to the plot and characters in the present. One thing she doesn’t explain much is what makes Sam attractive, but we’ve probably all struggled to put into words why we like someone at some point.

A hornet’s nest growing within a Tuscan holiday villa, swelling as the house itself is weakened, reflects the extramarital affair which begins in the warm Italian hills. Ann, a high-flying academic from a deprived background with whom Helen has actually kept in touch since school, tries to offer advice, but is ignored. Helen’s obsession increasingly unsettles the reader, culminating in her taking sudden and shocking measures.

The conclusion of the story is rather brief, although this does emphasise the impact of the twists, one of which seems something of a deus ex machina. The ending is open to interpretation and is therefore as satisfying as you want it to be. An intriguing and accomplished novel.

About the reviewer
Rob Jones studied English with Creative Writing options at the University of Leicester and completed an MA in Victorian Studies there. He lives in Sileby with his wife, sings with Leicester University Chamber Choir and dreams of working in heritage.

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