Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 298 pages; 2009. Review copy courtesy of publisher.
Last year I read Helen FitzGerald‘s second novel, My Last Confession, and enjoyed it enough to request her debut novel from the publisher. It was only while holed up at my sister’s place at Abu Dhabi last month that I got around to reading it. It turned out to be perfect holiday reading fodder, the type of book that’s not earth-shatteringly intelligent but one that’s entertaining and a lot of fun, albeit with a dark noirish feel to it.
The story introduces us to Glasgow-based Krissie, a social worker, who is also the star of the show in My Last Confession. That means it would have made more sense to read Dead Lovely first, but never mind, the book still made total sense, even if it had a touch of the déjà vus about it. (It took me awhile to clock that I had already “met” Krissie in the FitzGerald’s second offering, but I digress…)
Krissie is a rather plucky young woman, a kind of good-time-girl, who likes to work hard and play hard. Her best friend, Sarah, is more settled. She’s married to Kyle, a GP, and together the pair of them are trying to have a baby — with no luck.
Krissie’s friendship with Sarah begins to become strained when Krissie accidentally falls pregnant, thanks to a one-night stand during a wild holiday in the sun, and decides to keep the baby.
To patch things up between them, the trio go on a camping holiday to the Scottish Highlands, and this is where things begin to get even messier: Krissie falls in love with Kyle, whom she happened to share a house with back in her university days.
If this sounds a bit too far fetched, you’d be right. But the story goes completely over the top when one of the trio is killed during the trip. Now, I’m not going to spoil it and reveal who the victim is, but it’s what happens after the death that makes this book such a page-turner. The effect on Krissie is paramount — she becomes wracked by guilt and when the paranoia takes hold there’s no knowing what might happen next.
I went to the bathroom to wash my face. In the mirror was a woman with red eyes, bruises, bag-lady hair and very odd clothes. Who was I? And what was I thinking? Hoping for the best? Escaping? I couldn’t get away from this, away from my guilt, ever, I had to tell.
Dead Lovely is not exactly realistic — in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the storyline in completely preposterous — but it’s a fun romp, and perfect fodder for when you are on holiday or in the mood for something that won’t tax the brain matter.
I liked its mix of dark humour, murder and mayhem. The publisher sums it up as “intelligent chick-lit”, but I reckon it’s more accurate to describe it as a crime comedy. Either way, it’s an edgy and entertaining read. And if you like this one, then you can follow Krissie’s story, three years down the line, in the follow-up My Last Confession.