From Far Around They Saw Us Burn by Alice Jolly

It’s an absolute pleasure to begin the blog tour for From Far Around They Saw Us Burn by Alice Jolly. My enormous thanks to Alice for sending me a copy of the book and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for subsequently inviting me to join the tour today by sharing my review, which I’m delighted to do.

Previously I have reviewed Alice’s A Saint in Swindon here, Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile here, and Dead Babies and Seaside Towns here where I also interviewed Alice about this last book.

From Far Around They Saw Us Burn was published by Unbound on 30th March 2023 and is available for purchase here.

From Far Around They Saw Us Burn

Words begin to lose their meanings, flaking off into air like moths. Friendships cultivated over a lifetime fall apart in testing circumstances. What does the stranger with yellow eyes really want?

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?

My Review of From Far Around They Saw Us Burn

A collection of fifteen short stories. 

Having read and loved longer books by Alice Jolly I’m not sure why I thought I’d be hardened to the absolute beauty of her writing by now, but yet again the exquisite quality of her prose hit me like a physical blow. It’s as if Alice Jolly has the ability to seep beneath the skin and flesh of her readers into their very souls. I absolutely adored From Far Around They Saw Us Burn.

The descriptive aspects are pared down to the essence of what is needed to create vivid and affecting settings and appearances. The depiction of the area around Spalding and Boston in The Last House on the Marsh, for example, is pitch perfect. I know, because it’s where I live! Through the use of the senses, From Far Around They Saw Us Burn is a complete masterclass of writing as well as an immersive, moving and enthralling read. Many sentences are truncated and speech marks are absent so that the layers of meaning aren’t immediately obvious, making for a truly engaging read as what isn’t said becomes as important as what is clearly presented. This means that the reader can bring their own experiences to From Far Around They Saw Us Burn and that it will be a different book for each individual. 

Obviously it’s tricky to say too much about plot with short stories for fear of giving too much away, but each of these is crafted with authorial skill and precision. However, more important than the events themselves are the themes and the humanity found within the narratives. These stories vibrate with longing and loneliness and the basic need for human connection.

Alice Jolly explores relationships at every level. There’s marriage and family, parenthood and friendship and emotions of every kind from despair to hatred, swirled through with dystopian futurism and prosaic ordinariness in a fascinating blend of style that I found mesmerising. From Far Around They Saw Us Burn is utterly compelling because, more often than not, it gives a voice to the outsider, the dispossessed and the vulnerable.

I adored this collection. It is as if all life is present in From Far Around They Saw Us Burn. I found parts of it almost unknowable and unbearable whilst other elements spoke to me as if they had been extracted from my own mind and turned into fiction. Alice Jolly is a magnificent writer. She deserves greater exposure and absolute critical acclaim. You’ll find it hard to find another author who produces such finely wrought prose and From Far Around They Saw Us Burn is both blisteringly beautiful and brutal. Try her writing for yourself and don’t let From Far Around They Saw Us Burn be a quiet book that too many miss.

About Alice Jolly

Alice Jolly is a novelist and playwright. She won the 2014 V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize with one of her short stories, ‘Ray the Rottweiler’, and her memoir Dead Babies and Seaside Towns won the 2016 PEN Ackerley Prize. She has published two novels with Simon & Schuster – What the Eye Doesn’t See and If Only You Knew – and four of her plays have been produced by the professional company of the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. Her novel Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile, published by Unbound in 2018, was longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize and shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize. Her latest novel, Between the Regions of Kindness, was published by Unbound in 2019. In 2021, Jolly was awarded an O. Henry Prize for her short story From Far Around They Saw Us Burn. She lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Find out more about Alice on her website or by following her on Twitter @JollyAlice. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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