All the Good Things is about a 21-year-old woman tries to make sense of her life while in jail for a crime she has difficulty confronting.
Beth has been bounced from one foster carer to another in and around London since before she started school. Eventually the path of her life leads to a jail sentence, which is where we meet her.
Weekly counselling sessions with Erika persuade Beth to write down all the good things that have happened in her life, from sharing books with her birth mother, easy silences with her first foster father and bonding with her newborn baby.
The narrative jumps from Beth’s past to her present day. Eventually the past narrative catches up with the present and Beth finally comes to terms with her crime.
What I thought of it
I found All the Good Things a compelling read. Beth’s story is a variation on too many stories of kids who fall through the cracks of society through no fault of their own. It is not a happy story and there is no happy ending; more of a reconciliation with devastation.
Without a permanent family, Beth’s life is left at the whim of foster parents whose priorities change and social workers who may move jobs or retire. I felt Clare Fisher painted well the precarious situation faced by low-wage earners who have no ability to save, no social safety net for when things go wrong, and nobody to turn to for advice on basic practical life skills.
Most of the story is told by Beth herself, as a long letter to her baby. I enjoyed this a lot more than the last section of the narrative, which is told largely through official reports of social workers and related professionals. I found it a little jarring and missed Beth’s voice, but it was a valuable to gain a different point of view.
Beth is, ultimately, a mildly unreliable narrator of her own story. Some thoughts she expresses in her diaries are clearly delusional, which made me question some of her other assertions as well. Given her obvious guilt at her undisclosed crime, she has ample motive to bend the truth of her past.
Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.