Review – ‘All Our Squandered Beauty’ by Amanda Huggins

I received an advance copy of this book from the author.

At seventeen, Kara is a complex blend of idealistic youth and haunted past. She’s ticking the boxes – good education, steady boyfriend – but she yearns to escape small town life, and the rumours surrounding her Da’s death. A taste of London with her best friend Lou confirms her desire. But when Lou’s ambitions are extinguished by her own boyfriend and Kara’s tries to bind her to him through an act of betrayal, that desire intensifies. Handsome art tutor Leo offers Kara an art residency at his foundation in Greece, and she can’t leave fast enough. But all is not what it seems, and Kara returns home just as lost as she was before. Local fisherman Jake offers empathy through shared experience – and closure on a chapter of Kara’s life she was certain would remain unresolved forever.

Amanda Huggins brings her intricate language and stunning descriptions to this tale of love, grief, and self discovery. The contrast between the grey fishing villages, the vividness and motion of London, and the otherworldliness of the Greek islands stand in beautifully as metaphors for the familiar, alluring, and illusory elements of Kara’s life. Here an early description of Hayborough carries the weight of Kara’s past:

She stumbled against the herring sheds, folding in on herself, hardly noticing the pools of brackish water, the smell of rotting fish.

While Greece takes on a distinct foreign feel, and almost an opposition:

Shoals of tiny fish, almost translucent, weaved as one in the shallows between fronds of delicate seaweed, and freckled sea cucumbers bobbed in and out on the gentle waves.

Huggins uses language to capture conflict exceptionally well in this novella, both internal and external. The piece is strongly character driven and Kara is well rendered and believable in her interactions with others and her confusion over her father’s death. Her emotional conflict is especially resonant as she searches for ways to resolve the broken father-daughter bond she lost with her Da’s disappearance. 

All Our Squandered Beauty explores the idea of history and our relationships with it. Kara idolises her Da to the point where she can’t see a life without him, and can’t consider other possibilities around his disappearance. This colours her relationships with almost everyone. Her choices suggest self-sabotage. She chooses a boyfriend she has no intention of committing to, and entangles herself in a relationship with a teacher that has no chance of becoming what she envisions. There is a definite sense of self-fulfilling prophecy in a lot of her decision-making at a subconscious level, and only when she is confronted with the raw truth of this does she seem to become capable of change and growth. When a final piece of the puzzle falls into place, she is able to let go of the past and not be defined by her grief. 

Amanda Huggins has created a layered, subtle exploration of how we define ourselves and are shaped by our experiences. Her narrative is strongly anchored in a sense of place and time, which are reflective of the story’s themes. All Our Squandered Beauty is an accomplished work with a deep humanity, and will resonate with anyone haunted by past tragedy and unable to break free.

All Our Squandered Beauty is available for preorder from Victorina Press.

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