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Review of The Old Haunts by Allan Radcliffe

Allan Radcliffe is a celebrated journalist and has written award-winning short stories, so I was very much looking forward to his debut novel, The Old Haunts. Using a then-vs-now narrative, Radcliffe tells the story of recently bereaved Jamie who is staying at a rural cottage in the heart of Scotland with his actor boyfriend Alex. The sudden loss of both of Jamie’s parents hangs like a shadow over the trip. In his grief, Jamie finds himself sifting through bittersweet memories, from his working-class upbringing in Edinburgh to his bohemian twenties in London, with a growing awareness of his sexuality threaded through these formative years. 

Being half Scottish, it's always a pleasant surprise to read Scots - 'Ocht well', 'Guid', 'Sook' - and for me it really helped draw me into the story. Radcliffe uses sparing prose to portray the complex narrative of Jamie's grief - grief for the loss of his parents, grief as he comes to terms with his past and his upbringing, and grief as he tries to learn to accept himself. I felt Radcliffe used the then-vs-now narrative to great effect, particularly where Jamie looked back to memories from his schoolyears and we understand the confusion and pain he must have felt as a gay person growing up in working-class 1980s Edinburgh. 

Alex, Jamie's boyfriend, and Kit, the cottage owner, are important figures which stand by Jamie as he goes through this emotional turmoil. However, Radcliffe's story suggests that in order for Jamie to process his grief, it is something he has to go through himself. Those who surround him will be there to support him on the journey.  

Review by Helen.

The Old Haunts was published on 19/09/23 by Fairlight Books.

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