Blog tour: From Far Around They Saw Us Burn by Alice Jolly

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This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

From Far Around They Saw Us Burn is the eagerly awaited first short story collection from Alice Jolly, one of the most exciting and accomplished voices in British fiction today.

‘The extraordinary range of work gathered here is united by a fascination with how everyday interactions can transform our lives in unpredictable ways. These are stories of lonely people, outcasts and misfits, and the ghosts that inhabit our intimate spaces.

‘The result is a compelling, arresting and, at times, devastating collection – not least in the title story, which was inspired by the tragic true events of the 1943 Cavan orphanage fire.

‘Written with an exemplary eye for detail and an intimate understanding of the complexities of human nature, Jolly’s collection builds up towards the ultimate question: what is revealed of us when we peel away the surfaces, and is it enough?’

From Far Around They Saw Us Burn

In Alice Jolly’s new short story collection, From Far Around They Saw Us Burn, we meet all sorts of characters in a variety of situations – some unexpected and/or extreme, and others more commonplace, in the past, present, and future.

I found From Far Around They Saw Us Burn absorbing and arresting, due to both the plots and Jolly’s lyrical writing. There are pieces that will definitely stay with me and inspire my own writing, and this book is a worthy addition to my ever-growing short fiction collection.

As the blurb suggests, major themes of From Far Around They Saw Us Burn are loneliness, isolation, and outsider status, which I found highly relateable.

As well as more “classic” outsiders who are set apart by factors such as addiction, atypical lifestyles and behaviours, and geographical location, we see more privileged characters who have become unmoored by loss. This could be because someone important to them has moved away physically or emotionally, or has died.

Loss, taken more widely, is another theme that runs through much of the collection. As well as people, characters lose their homes, language, and sense of safety – but what they retain, on purpose or otherwise, also has great meaning.

The accidents and disasters that cause some of these losses give Jolly the scope to explore how different characters react to unexpected, extreme events. Similarly, I think different readers will take different things from this wide-ranging assemblage of stories, which leave a lot to individual interpretation. Three stories particularly stood out for me.

The first of these was Frog Warning, because I’d never read anything quite like it, felt inspired by the “what if?” question it poses, enjoyed its absurdist humour, and was struck by how quickly my brain adapted to the encroaching alternative “language” of the characters.

The second was Big Hugs and Kisses, because I was compelled by its relateable narrative about the objects we can’t seem to part from, especially if their origin stories pass into family lore.

The third was We All Know of Mr Jones, not least because it took such a surprising, subversive direction. I really appreciated its exploration of what might happen if “oh, don’t mind him, that’s just what he’s like” was taken to its logical extreme (resulting in darkly humorous scenes that feel off-kilter, yet sufficiently safe under Jolly’s control), and how “just be firm with him” only works as advice for more confident girls.

From Far Around They Saw Us Burn is wide-ranging, innovative, and arresting.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK