Litstack Recs | Selected Stories & Before the Ruins

by Lauren Alwan

Before the Ruins, by Victoria Gosling

I love it when I get recommendations from friends, when even though the books may be outside my standard genre, I end up really enjoying them. Such was the case with Victoria Gosling’s debut novel, Before the Ruins.

I’m not sure how to categorize this novel. It’s not really a mystery, nor a thriller. It has suspense, but it’s more a low burn than a hot blaze. There are dead bodies, but it’s not a crime novel. It’s completely set in the here and now (well, more or less) – nothing truly supernatural, or

Image of Victoria Gosling
Victoria Gosling

otherworldly. Definitely not horror, in the genre sense. Not grandiose enough to be considered card-carrying literary fiction.

What it is, is good. Enveloping without being cloying; involving without being all-consuming.

It’s a character novel, where what happens is important because it happens to these characters, because of its impact on these characters. And at a time when it seems every novel is trying to outdo the next – be more bombastic, more sensational, more bizarre, more gut-wrenching – the strength of this novel is that while it is engaging, it is also believable. The stretch in this novel is deep, not wide.

The book is narrated by Andrea – Andy – who we meet as an 18-year-old in 1996, daughter of an alcoholic single mother in Wiltshire, England. This is her story, intertwined with her relationships with her friends Peter and Em and her boyfriend, Marcus. And the day they meet David. The day – the summer – that changes all their lives. But this – these – changes are not earth-shattering; they are the type of changes that happen when something unexpected is introduced into lives that have pretty much been moving along unchallenged.

This is the story of aimless, idle youth, dancing on the edge of becoming. It is the story of friendships – deep, enduring, ebbing and flowing, slipping into dormancy and then reigniting. It is a story of loss, and growth, of tragedy and strength, of running away but not far enough, of reinventing yourself only to find this was who you were all along.

Okay, that’s enough of being vague. But I’m also not going to be specific. A synopsis of what happens may spur some interest (and that action is very compelling!), but it will be the characters that keep you turning the page. Andy. Peter. Em. Marcus. David. You will become vested in them, and they will break your heart, and make it soar.

Yeah, I love recommendations (thanks, Aubrey!) – and now here’s one for you. If you love character-driven novels, pick up a copy of Before the Ruins. You won’t be disappointed.

— Sharon Browning

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