The Good Neighbours by Nina Allan is one of those books that sits squarely on the border between speculative and literary fiction. It reminds me a bit of The Cottingley Cuckoo by A.J. Elwood, which came out from Titan a little while ago (see my review here) in that respect, though it approaches the themes in a very different manner. But if you like one, chances are you’ll like the other too. Both are rather odd, but charming in a lot of ways, even if not necessarily books that worked super well for me personally.
Massive thanks to riverrun for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 10/06/2021
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Cath is a photographer hoping to go freelance, working in a record shop to pay the rent and eking out her time with her manager Steve. He thinks her photography is detective work, drawing attention to things that would otherwise pass unseen and maybe he’s right…
Starting work on her new project – photographing murder houses – she returns to the island where she grew up for the first time since she left for Glasgow when she was just eighteen. The Isle of Bute is embedded in her identity, the draughty house that overlooked the bay, the feeling of being nowhere, the memory of her childhood friend Shirley Craigie and the devastating familicide of her family by the father, John Craigie.
Arriving at the Craigie house, Cath finds that it’s occupied by Financial Analyst Alice Rahman. Her bid to escape the city lifestyle, the anxiety she felt in that world, led her to leave London and settle on the island. The strangeness of the situation brings them closer, leading them to reinvestigate the Craigie murder. Now, within the walls of the Craigie house, Cath can uncover the nefarious truths and curious nature of John Craigie: his hidden obsession with the work of Richard Dadd and the local myths of the fairy folk. (from riverrun)
OPINIONS: This story starts out really intriguing. I enjoyed this book a lot until about two thirds through, when I realised that ultimately the story was not going to be resolved in a manner that would be satisfying to me. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly why that was, but I think it boils down to character potential falling flat. There are so many strands that are presented, that would be really interesting if followed through on, that then aren’t explored properly. It feels like answers are always either far too simple or completely out of the blue with little perceived logic.
For example, Cath is said to be a photographer. She sets out on this photography project. But there is awfully little photography in the story. She is also shown to have a visual disability – something that one would think would be explored and discussed in relation to being a visual artist, but is only brought up as an explanation why she doesn’t drive. And all of The Good Neighbours hinges on such unquestioned acceptance of character traits and actions and an ignorance of logic. This is something I struggle with, and ultimately it hindered my enjoyment of the story quite a bit.
The Good Neighbours wanders on the boundary between fairy tale and literary fiction quite a bit, trying to reconstruct the past and using individual’s belief in fairies which may or may not exist. These elements are interesting and make up a lot of the tension in the story. It is a compelling tale, even if it is one that didn’t fully work for me.