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FictionLiterary Fiction

Because All Fades
by Freddie Gillies

'Young people travelling' in a 'confident and fresh' debut novel set in Europe.

By February 23, 2024April 9th, 2024No Comments

What’s the worst that can happen when you go on holiday with friends? Freddie Gillies’ debut novel is a confident and fresh look into the secrets and lies that can make or break friendships and romantic relationships, set in a hazy European summer.

Gillies’ specialty is young people travelling: The Big Bike Trip (2021), his first book, was a non-fiction account of a round-the-world trip with friends. The three parts of Because All Fades are called Kids, Becoming and Adults, reflecting the novel’s coming-of-age nature. Two couples from New Zealand have recently moved to Europe. It’s ‘not quite what I imagined it would be when I was younger,’ one character confides. ‘Those rosy lenses are always too rosy. The real world has more shades of grey.’

Andrew and Jess are living in a cramped London flat, working crappy jobs and wondering if this is as good as it’s going to get. Andrew is ‘unreadable and unapproachable’, even ‘blunt, obtuse and stroppy when he wanted to be’, neglecting his relationship with his girlfriend Jess until it becomes stale and cold: ‘She didn’t know when he became so distant. When they’d arrived in London they clung to each other like kids after their first kiss, inseparable because all they had was each other.’ Although they moved to London together, Jess is now worried London is an ‘unoriginal choice’ and she can feel Andrew withdrawing: ‘In solitude she cried again for the coldness he exuded and the way that time drove on into the night, into the day.’

Far more original, she thinks, are Jaryd and Olivia. They are living in Paris on Jaryd’s parents’ money and working glamorous jobs, living in a flat that they own. Jaryd is the party boy of the group, always drinking too much and turning nights out into close calls with the law and personal safety. Gillies’ description of Jaryd’s antics feels horribly familiar to anyone who has observed or participated in ‘pub’ culture as Jaryd tries to ‘unite them all in a collective struggle for self-destruction’ every time he (over)drinks, encouraging them all to dance ‘shambolically, carelessly, like the morning wouldn’t come, like they’d never know getting old.’

Olivia works in fashion and is on the quiet side, her ‘dreamy brown eyes’ and ‘skin that didn’t know a pimple’ coveted by others all her life. Her relationship with Jaryd also isn’t as perfect as it seems, in fact it feels ‘disintegrating, corrosive and malevolent, spitting like fireworks on a warm November night as her strength of character became yesterday’s story.’

Jaryd and Andrew have been friends since they were young boys playing rugby together, even if their friendship is often fraught with dishonesty and too much competition. After breaking Andrew’s leg on the field when they are ten years old, Jaryd knows he doesn’t feel as sorry as he should. He feels guilty ‘not for putting Andrew in hospital, but for the euphoria he felt walking out of the place knowing he’d put him there. He felt strong.’ This dynamic follows them into adulthood, where Gillies explores its effect on their jobs, partners, and relationships.

Gillies slowly reveals all the ways that these four people are connected. The two couples decide to go on a road trip together, driving from Paris to the south of Italy in the sizzling heat of July. As the characters and their relationships unravel, Gillies takes them on a glittering summer tour of southern Europe, ‘chasing the sun through rolling hills to the shimmering sea. Vineyards sagged in the summer heat. Walled towns perched on hilltops overlooked the plains which went all the way to the water.’

Opening the novel with a prologue that hints at action and violence is somewhat misleading, given that Gilles’ true strength lies in the quieter moments of ‘quarantined emotion’ that fill this novel – for example, when the ‘sun shone tauntingly on the mountains, on the glittering lake, light that they didn’t feel but could only observe, passengers on a dark train that would not stop for youth, for blue skies, for hope.’ The serenity of the rolling, changing landscape is the perfect backdrop for the tension that Gillies spoon-feeds us until the strain is too much to bear, bringing us back to the violence of the opening passage. When the promised blood does come, the shifting group dynamic is jolted, and Gillies explores new angles that change as quickly as the summer weather darkens:

The mountains disappeared into dark clouds in the early afternoon. The clouds brought rain and the alpine road glowed from the headlights of cars and trucks and buses that strained up the incline. As the day gave way to evening, a premature darkness enveloped the pass. The river that followed the road through the valley filled up greedily from its tributaries and began to spill over its banks, into the fields.

The overreliance on exclamation points in the dialogue lends a strangely calculated, formal cadence to our foursome’s speech. (‘Two weeks on the road . . . let’s hope we’re not tearing each other’s hair out by the end of it!’) This feels oddly out of place compared with the more casual, easy descriptions of drug use (bags, keys, lines, two instances of cocaine’s ‘acidic tanginess’ dripping down the back of Andrew’s throat) and the generous flow of language that Gillies exhibits in a couple of monologue passages between Andrew and Jaryd:

Life is purposeless, it’s absurd, it’s suffering and it’s pain. No matter what you do, every little moment . . . it all leads to the same end. It’s a lot, it’s a lot for everyone. But it’s also beautiful. Yes, it makes no sense, yes, we’ll all end up just ash in the air, but what choice do we have? All we can do is try and enjoy the beauty in it, because there is a lot of that. Look around you, look at the sea, look at the countryside, look at your friends, your girlfriend.

Gillies’ exploration of male friendship in particular feels new and exciting, if a little rushed towards the end. Because All Fades is a short novel, and this aspect of the story has more potential. Although the time spent meandering around the south of Europe exploring ancient cities reflects Gillies’ credentials as a world traveler, the relationship between Andrew and Jaryd is what makes the novel’s well-worn themes of friendship and love stand out as crisp and original.

Because All Fades

by Freddie Gillies


ISBN: 9781776890965

Published: February 2024

Format: Paperback, 220 pages

Rebecca Hill

Rebecca Hill is a New Zealand writer and translator living in Berlin.