Saturday 9 October 2021

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2021 - Mystery Review Time!

I feel a bit of backstory is needed here to explain why I am doing a mystery review to celebrate this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival. 

For those of you who don't know, the Cheltenham Literature Festival is... hang on, let me just "borrow" what their say on their website ("... the world’s first literature festival, leading the way in celebrating the written and spoken word, presenting the best new voices in fiction and poetry alongside literary greats and high-profile speakers, while inspiring over 9,000 school children with a love of books through its Literature for Schools programme." with this year's theme being "Read The World" (which, as you can guess, is looking at world literature [fiction, non-fiction and poetry]). 

Now, Sofia at Midas emailed me about this and went "Fancy doing something a little different?", which caught my attention. Her idea: to receive a mystery book from the festival and read/review it. If I can't read or review in time, plot something a little out of the box.

And who am I to refuse that? Now, I am writing this intro bit in September, before my mystery book has arrived. I am a mix of excited/scared due to time frame but I am going to read this as quick as I can and report back. So... if you want to see the mystery book, you know what to do?

I have never heard of this book till I received it on Monday. I heard of the author - not sure how, but I know Caroline O'Donoghue has recently wrote All Our Hidden Gifts for Walker Books - but I would have never gone anywhere near Scenes of a Graphic Nature. On the surface, it wouldn't have appeal. Which is why I went straight into this book knowing nothing. All I knew was that it's set in Ireland and the characters in this were going to be super flawed. 

Title And Author: Scenes of a Graphic Nature by Caroline O'Donoghue

Publisher: Virago

Bought, Borrowed or Gifted: Hardback gifted by Midas PR to celebrate Cheltenham Literature Festival in exchange for honest review/reaction. 

Charlie's life is stuck. Her father's health is rapidly decline, she can't really get into the British film industry (even though she's made a short life on her father's life) and is experimenting with online pornogrsphy. So when she gets offered the chance to go to Ireland for a small film festival, she and her best friend, Laura, jump at it. And, once there, they decide to visit her father's ancestral home of Clipim, an island off the west coast of Ireland, in the desperate hope that this will be her last chance to connect with her father's past. 

But once there, Charlie begins to realise there's something more is happening. She is forced to look at her messy relationship with Laura, but something about Clipim. Something dark is under the surface and soon, the warm welcome she and Laura received turns cold and hostile... 

I sped through this in three days. THREE DAYS! That is unheard of for me, and I actually had to ask/beg my Other Half for a few evenings of reading (which was fine with him as that meant more time for him on xBox). But I stormed through this at speed! 

And, going into this blind really helped as I had no idea what to expect. What I came away with is something that was darkly funny. There was a real darkness to the humour and something truly Irish about this book. I devoured this and sniggered to myself most of the time.  

Also, an element I was hugely surprised over is our lead characters are hugely flawed. Charlie isn't the most likeable lead and many times, other characters point out that she's not the most easiest person to be around. Same with her best friend Laura. Many times, Laura would say or do something without much thought and we saw how it affect Charlie. And because both Charlie and Laura are flawed, their friendship is complex and messy. 

The mystery of Clipim is an interesting one and, once I found my footing with it, I liked the twists that happened and the slow revealing of it. I also liked how quickly the town turned on Charlie. 

However, the mystery and the town’s growing hostility wasn’t the main driving force for me. It was Charlie, her humour and the look into her friendship with Laura and possible, budding romance with Maria. 

I do have issues with this book. I get this is an adult novel, I do, and while reading this, I got why the language and tone was the way it was. But there was one or two times a word or phrases was used and, even though I understood why the characters said them, I winced. 

Also, the ending. Ok, I get why it happened the way it did. There was no other way for Charlie to figure it all out, but to have everything explained and resolved within the final chapter just felt a little like a cheat. And the epilogue. Nope - that didn’t work for me, I’m afraid. 

But, guess what? I did genuinely enjoy myself reading this. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have stormed it in three days. Maybe, in future, I should do more mystery books and go in knowing nothing! 

[Quick note: I would like to apologise how late in the day this post went up. I was out two nights during to the week so I couldn’t write this till today. But it was late today due to MOT, wifi, fear of gas leak and washing machine going “Haha nope!”. It’s as if the weekend knows you want a chill day and plots against you, doesn’t it?]

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