Monday, 8 June 2009

Helen FitzGerald is Dead Lovely

Review - Helen FitzGerald - DEAD LOVELY
Publisher: Faber and Faber (5 Feb 2009)
First published in 2007 by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 978-057 1236503
Paperback 298 pages

Helen FitzGerald's debut novel, DEAD LOVELY has been described as chick-lit. Well, only if chick-lit is more "Does my bum look big in this murderous, psychotic rage?" and less obsessing about chocolate. Krissie and Sarah have been best friends since childhood. Krissie sleeps with anything that moves, and a drug fuelled encounter in a nighclub toilet in Tenerife leads to an unwanted pregnancy. Sarah, on the other hand, has been trying to get pregnant for ages and her marriage to Kyle is suffering because of it. Krissie now has post-natal depression and Sarah's obsession for a child is becoming uncontrollable, so Krissie, Sarah and Kyle decide to go on a nice little camping holiday on the West Highland Way to try to take their minds off their troubles and to reclaim some of their carefree youth. Needless to say, with two exceedingly hormonal females on board, things don't quite work out as planned.

On the very first page of DEAD LOVELY we find out that Krissie gives her best friend's husband oral sex in the shared tent, and, to add insult to injury, subsequently murders said best friend. I've always said that nothing good comes of camping. I was thinking midges and lack of toilet facilities rather than bloodshed and butchery, though.

Alternating first and third person narratives tell us how we got to where we are at the start of the book, and then continue, like a bicycle without brakes, careening downhill to an inexorable and bloodthirsty end. DEAD LOVELY touches on some very dark subjects and is gory, gruesome, touching, thrilling, heart-stopping...and often very, very funny. There's an absurdity about it which doesn't take away from the realism and believability.

I started off disliking all the characters but caring what happened to them (rather a difficult trick to pull off). In the end, the more unhinged they were, the more I came to like them (which led me to worry about my own sanity and judgement). DEAD LOVELY is a tough book to review. It's both grave and irreverent, full of glee and full of sorrow. I laughed and grimaced in equal measures.

This was the first time in ages that I have picked up a book and read it straight through. I still don't quite know what to make of it, apart from the fact that I loved it, and I shall be snapping up the rest of Helen FitzGerald's books forthwith. Great fun - the lovechild of Bridget Jones and Hannibal Lecter.

On Saturday 13th June at 1.30pm Helen FitzGerald will be at Eastwood Park Theatre discussing her work and signing copies of her books. Her most recent book is MY LAST CONFESSION which has the following tips for parole officers:

1. Don’t smuggle heroin into prison.
2. Don’t drink vodka to relieve stress.
3. Don’t French kiss a colleague to get your boyfriend jealous.
4. Don’t snort speed.
5. Don’t spend more time with murderers than with your son.
6. Don’t invite crack-head clients to your party.

Yep. Looks good to me.


  1. Great review, Donna. You have summed up this schizophrenic book very well! I read it recently (on the train to Crime fest in fact) and enjoyed it a lot. I, too, could not understand the monker "chick lit noir" all over the cover, but when I got to the last tenth, I understood - the pace changed somewhat into that direction.

    But I agree, I had very little sympathy with the characters, particularly the main one re her mothering skills (not) - but somehow I did get to care about them, surprisingly! It was a light and easy read, with some tough stuff to say about "child welfare" departments, etc.

    I think the author is very talented and I've got her next novel on my shelf in order to test out my thesis!

  2. Thanks Maxine! I agree - she IS very talented and I'm excited at the prospect of reading another of her books.

  3. Great review Donna - I read this last year (or the year before) and was gobsmacked by it - you know I belong to the pink fluffy slipper brigade so came as a shock that I liked it so much. I was shocked and delighted all at the same time - glad there are more books by Fitzgerald out now

  4. Great review and I completely agree with you about camping. I read the book more than a year ago so can't remember much (my brain is Swiss cheese).

    I hope you're not claiming her as Scottish though...she was born an Aussie so we claim her here :)

  5. Sally - her writing has that effect on you!
    Bernadette - I'm glad I'm not the only anti-camper. I was forced to go when a child - Waxham Sands. We went every bloody year. There were two camp sites - one with a shop, a disco, a swimming pool, proper loos and showers. The one next door was a field with a tap in it. And guess which one WE had to pitch our tent in? Yes indeedy, and my dad even made sure we pitched the tent at the other end of the field from the tap... And she lives in Glasgow so by my very loose definition she qualifies for Badsville :o)

  6. I hope your loose definition is correct, Donna, because this "living in Glasgow" is how Karen decided the author qualified for Euro crime, and hence how I got my copies of the two books ;-)

    Absolutely agree on the camping. I spent many a miserable childhood holiday in fields in various wet, windy farms round Aberystwth - cold taps? Luxury!

  7. Basically Maxine, anyone who's even sniffed a deep fried Mars Bar can be included on my list :o) Glad to know that I'm in such good company as Karen!

  8. I guess we'll have to share her then...our definition of Aussie is pretty loose too...born here, visited here, seen a picture of a Koala bear. But the authors should be pleased to be fought over in this way :)

  9. "seen a picture of a Koala bear"...then hello mate! That makes me an Aussie too :o)