The best writing holds a mirror to the reader, and Allan Radcliffe’s debut novel The Old Haunts is a beautiful example of this. The central character of Jamie escapes to the country after the loss of his parents, and is trying to work through his grief while inevitably reflecting on the past. The novel then moves between present day and Jamie’s past, allowing us to get a clear picture not only of the man as he is today, but the people, places, and experiences which have brought him to this point.
His working-class Edinburgh childhood, the confusion of those formative years, the mix of excitement and trepidation at moving away from home, and other big life events are recalled in detail. But as the novel progresses they are reassessed and the truth, or a different truth, begins to reveal itself.
As Radcliffe writes, ‘Time makes everything out of scale’, and growing up and growing old can drastically change perspectives. When his boyfriend Alex leaves to return to London, Jamie has to reflect upon those things never said and ask if the choices he made were to protect others, or himself. This throws regret into the emotional mixer, as he has to come to terms with his past before he can even contemplate possibilities for the future.
over time in such a recognisable way, and remind us that feelings of grief and loss are as complex a mix of emotions as we will ever experience. It’s one of the reasons great writing is so important – that ability to invoke empathy and understanding, to put into words our thoughts and feelings, and to think more deeply ourselves.
The Old Haunts may be a debut, but it reads as if Allan Radcliffe has been around for years – there is wisdom and insight which is usually married to experience, not necessarily of life but in the art of writing itself. It’s one thing to have these thoughts; quite another to express them in such an understated yet affecting manner. There is love, care, and kindness here, not only for his characters, but for readers as well.