Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 368 pages; 2010. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
In a bid to support Australian authors, I requested Rebecca James’ Beautiful Malice from the publisher when I began to hear good things about.
It’s essentially a very simple story about Katherine, a teenager coming to terms with a family tragedy. She changes her name, moves to another city and makes friends with Alice, a beautiful and charming girl in her class, who turns out to be a bit of a nutcase.
And that’s kind of it.
Well, there’s a little love affair or two thrown in for good measure, and some flash backs that reveal the tragedy behind Katherine’s heartache, and a curve-ball in the form of a narrative thread that leaps ahead by five years. It can feel a bit disorientating in places, although I suspect that’s deliberate, but for the most part this is a fairly predictable tale told in fairly pedestrian prose.
The characters are one-dimensional and even Alice, by far the most interesting person in the whole book, comes across as a caricature of a self-obsessed narcissist.
For much of this book I kept wondering which kind of audience it was aimed at. Faber and Faber bills it as “general fiction” but it feels like “young adult” to me. I suspect teenage girls would love it because it appears to address some universal themes, for instance, balancing friendships with peer pressure, and learning from your mistakes. There are plenty of moral messages here too, such as the dangers of drugs, alcohol and unprotected sex, that seem too dumbed down for anything other than a teenage audience.
I had really wanted to love this book, and while I read it relatively quickly (it’s a very easy read that slips down like a tall glass of orange squash in one thirst-quenching hit), it didn’t tick the boxes I expect from a good read. In a word, disappointing.