thank you so much, Joanna for this fab review!
by Joanna Clark
Ali Thurm’s debut novel, One Scheme of Happiness, is an extraordinary and extraordinarily skilled piece of story-telling. The narrator and main protagonist, Helen Farrish, at first seems almost deliberately dull and self-effacing; very matter-of-fact. In new-found freedom, following the death of the mother for whom she has cared since the age of 19, Helen, at first reluctant to be reunited with with childhood friends Vicky and Sam – now a married couple with two young children – begins to wonder: ‘We COULD start again from where we’d left off all those years ago. We could all be friends again.’
The writing is precise and richly descriptive (as might be imagined, since Thurm is also a published poet) but this is not a ‘poetic’ novel. It’s psychological and social, with a nice line in approaching menace.
As Helen shares her thoughts about the pair, using evidence from school memories, any facts of the matter, like the torn-up image of the lighthouse on the book’s cover, slip gently further and further out of alignment. We accompany Helen as she identifies apparent choices, ponders them, then acts according to her decisions; or was it that a choice was not hers? That a situation simply came about because Vicky or Sam acted? Or was the outcome simply ‘meant to be’? The ‘situations’ which develop and unfold in the first half of the book and accelerate away in the second are unexpected or, if expected, not expected in the way you might expect.
Thurm’s representation of the sort of children’s games never-to-be-acknowledged-thereafter by those concerned is authentic and unflinching. That the most-troubled third member of the schoolgirl group, ‘Smelly-Ann’, appears (to this reader) to turn out the most balanced and socially responsible throws into relief Helen’s unusual take on adult life. Thurm’s protagonist slowly reveals the fantasies and skewed interpretation of social behaviour which can accrue in an imaginative mind too long starved of emotional intimacy and ‘normalising’ home life. It’s a convincing portrait which wavers into and out of focus so that it is hard for the reader to know what to feel for or about Helen – even after her tale has hurtled to its surprising conclusion. Joanna Clark 09/07/2020
From the Waterstones website.