Today’s book review roundup is an eclectic mix of love, grief, chaos and just downright disaster. It includes; Ainslie Hogarth’s Motherthing, Coco Mellors’ Cleopatra and Frankenstein, Yomi Adegoke’s The List and Ella Baxter’s New Animal.
MOTHERTHING – ★★★★★
When Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby hopes it’s just what she and her mother-in-law need to finally connect. After a traumatic childhood, Abby is desperate for a mother figure, especially now that she and Ralph are trying to become parents themselves. Abby just has so much love to give—to Ralph, to Laura, and to Mrs. Bondy, her favorite resident at the long-term care home where she works. But Laura isn’t interested in bonding with her daughter-in-law. She’s venomous and cruel, especially to Abby, and life with her is hellish.
When Laura takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby and Ralph in very different ways: Ralph is plunged into depression, and Abby is terrorized by a force intent on destroying everything she loves. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move Mrs. Bondy from the home, leaving Abby totally alone. With everything on the line, Abby comes up with a chilling plan that will allow her to keep Mrs. Bondy, rescue Ralph from his tortured mind, and break Laura’s hold on the family for good. All it requires is a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and a unique recipe for chicken à la king.
Motherthing is a darkly funny domestic horror about a woman who must take drastic measures to save her husband and herself from the vengeful ghost of her mother-in-law. It’s a gal’s worst nightmare!! Admittedly, I had already fallen in love the moment that I saw the cover but once I dived into the story, I was beyond head over heels. It was spooky, disturbing – quite often gruesome – but utterly hilarious and witty at the same time.
Hogarth explores what it is likely to literally be haunted by toxic relationships. There are some very important and rather poignant themes of emotional dependency, dysfunctional relationships and toxicity amongst the chaos.
Hogarth’s writing is evocative, bizarre and downright horrifying – in the best way! Motherthing‘s narrator, Abby, is quirky, impulsive and compelling. I was completely gripped as we slowly watch her descend into madness. Is Motherthing completely over the top batshit crazy? Absolutely. But it is a cracker of a story!
While I absolutely adored it, I imagine it that it’s probably akin to marmite. You have to fully buy into all the madness and silliness of Hogarth’s world. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, you have been warned!
CLEOPATRA AND FRANKENSTEIN – ★★★★★
Twenty-four-year-old British painter Cleo has escaped from England to New York and is still finding her place in the sleepless city when, a few months before her student visa ends, she meets Frank. Twenty years older and a self-made success, Frank’s life is full of all the excesses Cleo’s lacks. He offers her the chance to be happy, the freedom to paint, and the opportunity to apply for a Green Card. But their impulsive marriage irreversibly changes both their lives, and the lives of those close to them, in ways they never could’ve predicted.
Each compulsively readable chapter explores the lives of Cleo, Frank, and an unforgettable cast of their closest friends and family as they grow up and grow older. Whether it’s Cleo’s best friend struggling to embrace his gender queerness in the wake of Cleo’s marriage, or Frank’s financially dependent sister arranging sugar daddy dates to support herself after being cut off, or Cleo and Frank themselves as they discover the trials of marriage and mental illness, each character is as absorbing, and painfully relatable, as the last.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein is another novel that is basically marmite in the literary community. I’m just going to say it, I really enjoyed it. It took me back to the days that I used to obsessively watch teen dramas like Gossip Girl, which is probably why I’ve given it five stars. The characters, namely Cleo and Frank, are eye-roll inducing but by the end of the novel, Cleo really grew on me and I guess I somewhat identified with her self-destructive nature. Frank, eh, he’s there. I did, however, truly loathe Eleanor and not in a fun way.
The dialogue is razor sharp and I couldn’t help but be swept up in their world of eccentric friends, chic restaurants and the NYC art scene. I was even more gripped when it all started falling apart and the cracks began to appear in Cleo and Frank’s whirlwind romance.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein took me surprise. The book perfectly captures the complexities of modern relationships; the dizzying highs of the honeymoon phase and the dark lows once the rose tinted glasses come off. There are some particularly tender and heartbreaking moments alongside the melodrama. It’s an interesting study in love, marriage, desire, friendship, addiction and mental health and for Cleo and myself in particular, represents the chaos of your early twenties. I’m very excited to see what Coco Mellors does next!
THE LIST – ★★
Ola Olajide, a celebrated journalist at Womxxxn magazine, is set to marry the love of her life in one month’s time. Young, beautiful, and successful—she and her fiancé Michael are considered the “couple goals” of their social network and seem to have it all. That is, until one morning when they both wake up to the same message: “Oh my god, have you seen The List?”
It began as a crowdsourced collection of names and somehow morphed into an anonymous account posting allegations on social media. Ola would usually be the first to support such a list—she’d retweet it, call for the men to be fired, write article after article. Except this time, Michael’s name is on it.
Ohhhh boy. The only reason this is two stars and not one is because it was a case of interesting premise, horrific execution. There were the bones of a good, insightful story buried in there somewhere but they were completely wiped out in favour of a Gen Z soap opera that ultimately absolves men of their shitty behaviour and undoes any shred of meaningful exploration of the subject. It was engaging, I’ll give Adegoke that, but it was infuriating to see a book marketed as a woke, Gen Z, feminist novel about sexual assault/harassment/abuse when it’s basically an entire apologist plotline. Won’t someone think of the men!!!
The Listis centered around a #MeToo movement-esque storyline and focuses on the men who are exposed. There were so many opportunities for Adegoke to have a nuanced conversation about #MeToo and these lists but it felt like one big FU to real victims that do come forward. While I want to believe Adegoke had good intentions when writing, the result is tasteless and damaging.
Spoiler alert: Michael is not an innocent guy who is wrongly accused but Ola will do Olympic level gymnastics to excuse his behaviour. One thing Adegoke gets right is that men, like Michael, get away with their abusive and harmful behaviour and there will always be someone to tell them that they are the true victim. I mean, he cheated on her multiple times ffs and emotionally manipulated another woman but sure, let’s frame the victim as unhinged and in the wrong. I’m not even tagging this as feminist because it was a disaster!
The List focuses on the very sensitive topic of sexual assault and the misogyny and objectification of women that is rife in today’s society. It’s something that should have been handled with more care but Adegoke turns it into an EastEnders drama. Adegoke emphasises that in a post-#MeToo world where women – and men – are bravely coming forward about the harassment and abuse they have endured, we must forgive our perpetrators because it’s clearly the women/victims that are not in their right minds. Not only was it insulting to survivors everywhere but to make matters worse, it was full of plot holes. The quickest I’ve ever shipped a book off to Ziffit! Good riddance!
NEW ANIMAL – ★★★★
It’s not easy getting close to people. Amelia’s meeting a lot of men but once she gets the sex she wants from them, that’s it for her; she can’t connect further. A terrible thing happened to Daniel last year and it’s stuck inside Amelia ever since, making her stuck too.
Maybe being a cosmetician at her family’s mortuary business isn’t the best job for a young woman. It’s not helping her social life. She loves her job, but she’s not great at much else. Especially emotion.And then something happens to her mum and suddenly Amelia’s got too many feelings and the only thing that makes any sense to her is running away.
It takes the intervention of her two fathers and some hilariously wrong encounters with other broken people in a struggling Tasmanian BDSM club to help her accept the truth she has been hiding from. And in a final, cataclysmic scene, we learn along with Amelia that you need to feel another person’s weight before you can feel your own.
This is a wickedly wild and deadpan comedy about grief. Baxter perfectly captures the heartbreak of losing someone and falling apart so badly that we cling to anything – and anyone – to cope momentarily no matter how unhealthy it is.
The writing in New Animal is so bold and beautiful. I loved that Baxter didn’t shy away from uncomfortable scenes, particularly the ones of Amelia exploring BDSM to deal with her grief. At times, New Animal was highly distributing and nauseating but it was also freeing and often quite funny in a morbid way.
Honestly, my heart really hurt for Amelia. When we lose someone that is so essential to our existence, we can unravel. Amina unravels in a unique way but we will all do so in our own unique way when struggling with the burden of grief. A memorable and promising debut!