I absolutely loved Cassandra Parkin’s short story collection New World Fairy Tales, so I was very excited to read this, her first novel.
The Summer We All Ran Away is set in the ‘then’ and the ‘now’, centred around a half-finished mansion. In the ‘now’, teenager Davey stumbles upon the mansion when running away from home after repeated beatings by his step-dad. He’s allowed to stay, as long as he doesn’t ask any questions about why and how the others came to be squatting there. Thirty years ago in the ‘then’, musician Jack Laker is attempting to escape his destructive rock star lifestyle, but it seems to be following him around.
The chapters alternate between the two time periods, gradually moving closer together to explain how these lost characters and their different stories link together.
I love the house. It’s one of those ‘setting as character’ places – like in Rebecca or Gatsby. Jack runs out of money before he can finish it, so while the front half is fashionably decorated, the back is in ruins (and there’s a panther in a cage in the garden). It’s basically every character in the book – the difference between what they’re showing you and what lies underneath (and the fear that it could be something dangerous). The writing is of quality, though, that it’s not one of those metaphors forever waving at you for attention and ramming itself down your throat – it just is. The ‘people’ characters are also all very well drawn – I particularly found Isaac (who only communicates through drawing) and Priss (a teenage girl with a harsh exterior) interesting to read.
I prefer my stories to end ambiguously, so the ending was a little too neat for me, particularly Jack’s story, but I liked that the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ came together. I’m so bloody fickle.
It’s one of those books that compels you to keep reading, to find out why and who and when and oh-wait-did-he. A mystery story, but not a book I’d try to squeeze only into the genre box – a good read for mystery lovers, but also just lovers of quality contemporary fiction.