All Our Squandered Beauty

This seems like a title for our times but in fact is the title of a short novel by the very talented Amanda Huggins. I really enjoy Amanda’s writing and have reviewed both her fiction and poetry on this blog… when I can keep up with her! She has already published three collections of short stories and was a finalist in 2018 for the Costa Short Story Award. In 2020 she won the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award, and in the same year her poetry collection The Collective Nouns for Birds won the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet.

In this short coming of age novel, set on the Yorkshire coast, but also on a Greek island, Kara is seventeen and life is opening up for her. She plans to go to university to study English, but she’s also a talented artist and Leo, her 6th form art tutor, has taken her under his wing. Kara is also pulled in the direction of safety by her more conventional boyfriend, but when she finds out that he hopes their one night of unprotected sex will lead to her becoming pregnant she is (understandably) horrified. Growing up in the 70s, she is a feminist, keen to make her own way in life and not to settle for the traditional role of stay-at-home wife and mum. A trip to London inspires her sense of freedom but a holiday art trip to Greece, organised by Leo is not what it seems.

The main emotional heft of the novel however comes from Kara’s relationship with her father, lost in an accident at sea. There’s always been uncertainty about whether he died, as his body was never found, and Kara suspects he went away to start a new life with the elusive Lola.

There are many interwoven strands to this well-written novella, so many that it could easily have developed into a longer work. I’m sure Amanda has the potential to write a full length novel when she want to and I’d love to read it. As in previous short stories and poems, she tackles themes of loss, young love and the sea and all its attendant myths.

The mystery of what really happened to Kara’s father and concerns over whether she is pregnant or not, are the hooks that kept drawing me into this novella. I would recommend it to any reader who enjoys a page turner, especially young adult readers. All Our Squandered Beauty asks the question: What kind of life do you want? and reminds us that we have the right to choose how we live and not be limited by social expectations and norms. Writing at a time of social upheaval, economic uncertainty and amid a climate emergency these questions have a particular resonance.

All Our Squandered Beauty by Amanda Huggins will be published by Victorina Press in January 2021.

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