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Dead Lovely by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Faber and Faber on 5 June. Billed as "a dark tale of friendships gone bad…" it starts with a whacking great kick that has you wondering where this tale is going to go:
"Some people find themselves all at once, like an explosion. Backpacking in the Himalayas maybe, or tripping on acid. Some people study the art of finding themselves, and graduate – or not – after years of diligence. I found myself bit by bit, through a series of accidents really.
The first bit I found was in a tent in the West Highland Way. My best friend Sarah was asleep. Her husband was lying beside her, and I was swallowing his semen.
I discovered the next piece of me at the bottom of a cliff, where I dragged Sarah's dead body, bumping her head from rock to rock. Sarah, my best friend since we were little girls, who I'd betrayed and murdered.
And then, in the darkness of my parents' attic, I found the rest of me."
In a nutshell: Krissie and Sarah have been best friends since early school days. But as adults they could not be more different, especially when it comes to relationships. Where Sarah became a nurse, married a doctor and sought to start a family with no result, Krissie has jumped from one quick gratification liaison to the next. Then, when on holiday in Tenerife, she conceives in a liaison in a loo cubicle. Now, Krissie has something that Sarah desperately wants – a child – as well as having more than she can cope with and no clear vision of how she wants her future with her son to pan out. Post-natal depression and alcohol dependency don't help, so a holiday is suggested. While baby Robbie is looked after by Krissie's loving parents, Krissie joins Sarah and her husband Kyle for a week of walking and camping. This is when things really start to implode…
This is a novel full of tension and surprises, with past events catching up and causing actions and reactions (and absolute mayhem) that could not have been foreseen. What has been buried under carpets for years, surfaces in what can best be described as a set of human volcanic eruptions.
Chas, a friend of Kyle, Sarah and Krissie has been in prison for an unexplained violent attack involving a shopping trolley on the underground in London and about which he will say nothing. At first he seems a peripheral character, but his presence and impact grow as the pages turn.
The novel alternates through its chapters from first person (Krissie) to third person (multiple). This can be a little jarring on times – it helps if your gaps between reading are few and infrequent (to make it so would be your greatest temptation anyway) – but it does move the plot along, and both are written in a direct, easy to read and chatty style. Dead Lovely really does have pace; even if you think it’s all summed up in those first few paragraphs.
This is a psychological thriller up there with the best of them, but with a different style. It’s not so much the twists and turns of plotting that capture the reader, so much as human actions and reactions, often extreme and unpredictable, and yes, forget “plot” as you really do feel you are a fly on the wall and living in their world as the story for these people unfolds. Who is/are the sympathetic character(s)? You’ll keep changing your mind as you read through.
I suspect this is a novel more for female than male readers, due to subject matter and openness about trying to achieve pregnancy, pregnancy, childbirth and the effects on a woman’s body in all cases – in glorious technicolour detail. But Fitzgerald hides from nothing here, be it the “woman stuff” or the impact of violence and other crimes. It’s Fitzgerald’s open and direct manner that captures the reader’s imagination.
If you feel this is subject matter just up your street, this is not to be missed: Dead Lovely by Helen Fitzgerald.
First published by Allen and Unwin in Australia in 2007, Faber and Faber are set to publish Dead Lovely on 5 June 2008 in the UK. Fitzgerald is a native of Australia, one of thirteen children who grew up in Victoria. When she met and married Scots-Italian journalist Sergio Casci, she moved with him to Glasgow, where the novel is, essentially, set. As well as writing, Fitzgerald is the Scottish equivalent of a Parole Officer, working part-time in this role.