Best Books of 2011: Lovereading
Best Books 2011 – Guilty Conscience
REVIEW OF BLOODY WOMEN BY BRIAN LINDENMUTH – SPINETINGLER MAGAZINE 13-1-11
Helen Fitzgerald is a UK writer who hasn’t (as far as I know) had any of her work formally published in the U.S. yet. So if you are in the States you’ll have to hit The Book Depository. She writes this wholly unique mix of chick-lit and noir/horror/dark-psychological crime novel that at first doesn’t seem like it would fit but is a heady mix when you read it. A women on the verge of getting married wants to meet with her four former boyfriends. They start turning up dead and she’s now the prime suspect. Is she crazy? Did she do it? Sounds conventional when reduced to a couple of lines? Well it isn’t.
In any given reading year you are blessed to read many good books, a few great ones and occasionally an original. An author or a book that is steadily creating their own genre; doing their own thing. Helen Fitzgerald is one of those originals, carving out her own territory, and that has to be respected.
When I read The Devil’s Staircase last year I was blown away by the combination of a prosaic coming of age story coupled with an Allan Guthrie-like pound of flesh (“like an Allan Guthrie novel with ovaries”).
I had Bloody Women sitting on my shelf for awhile now and I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it. The writing is even better, the story is even more demented and the characters are even more twisted. Everything in this very twisty tale is ramped up a few notches.
Reading a Helen Fitzgerald novel makes you realize how male-centric the crime novel often is at a DNA level, even when featuring a female protag, because the worldview of it is so fundamentally different. Quite frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air and is one of the reasons that it resonates so thoroughly.
Bloody Women by Helen Fitzgerald is quite possibly (probably?) the greatest psycho noir ever written. Yet it is so much more than that. The bottom line is that American readers of dark, brilliant crime fiction need to get hip to Fitzgerald now.
REVIEW OF AMELIA O’DONOHUE IS SO NOT A VIRGIN 2-2-11
Book Review: “Amelia O’Donahue is So Not a Virgin” by Helen FitzGerald
So when Amelia asked for my help, What was I to do? Did I have a choice? It’s not like I could tell everyone that she sneaks off in the middle of the night in her pink silk nightie to sleep with her boyfriend. Right?
But this one favor leads to a secret so big it just might change everything—for Amelia and for me…
Without spoiling anything, the book isn’t so much about Amelia O’Donahue as the title or the summary make it out to be. Instead the book is told from the viewpoint of Rachel Ross (a homage perhaps to the Friends super couple?), a new student to a boarding school in Scotland. She comes to the school as someone who has suffered from issues with her parents and due the emotional trauma she’s faced, it makes her be a secret keeper. Her first few weeks of school, she becomes a sponge for other students as they tell her their secrets, wishes and problems. Her room almost becomes a confession booth as the girls confide her with things that no one else knows about.
The book then becomes a mystery, as Rachel discovers a newborn baby that has been abandoned by its mother in the school. She sets off to find the mother, trying to figure out if it’s a student or a teacher. Along the way she befriends her roommate, Amelia, who carries a few secrets of her own that Rachel has been keeping. Rachel’s character seems at first very open with the reader. Since we are seeing things from her perspective, we think we know everything that she knows. What we don’t realize is that things are being kept from us that are important and crucial to the story, some that even she doesn’t realize.
The ending of the book honesty came out of nowhere for me. I did not expect any of that coming and it made, like the characters in the book, want to go over all the events in the past to see if the clues had been there all along. It’s a total mind trick on the reader because you thought you knew everything and then BOOM you were wrong. Actually I really enjoyed the twist, although now that you know about the twist, it will not really come as a surprise like it did for me. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. This is apparently FitzGerald’s first YA novel and I think it’s a winner. I really liked the boarding school setting as well as the fact it takes place in Scotland. The characters are all very interesting and I think the subject matter is also quite timely for the age group. I look forward to reading more YA novels from her in the future.
FOUR STAR REVIEW OF AMELIA O’DONOHUE IS SO NOT A VIRGIN IN THE BIG ISSE
Young Adult fiction is a tricky thing to get right, striking the balance so the author doesn’t make things too complex or too dumb for their teen readership. A fine example of how it should be done is Helen FitzGerald’s Amelia O’Donohue is SO not a Virgin.
The Glasgow-based Aussie author usually writes bitterly black noir thrillers for adults, but while this is less extreme in nature, it’s no less impressive. Rachel Ross is an impressive student at a remote Perthshire boarding school for girls who makes an incredible discovery – a newborn baby in a drawer.
Her search for the mother forms the edgy, funny plot in a book that tackles serious social and psychological issues with a refreshingly light bur firm hand.
The Devil’s Staircase featured in Lovereading as a christmas gift idea and “a great book you may have missed.”
Excellent review of The Devil’s Staricase in The Herald
1st May 2009
“The Devil’s Staircase ramps up both the comedy and the horror to almost epic proportions, managing to combine a hilarious coming-of-age romance with extermely violent serial-killing nastiness, all in just over 200 blisteringly readable pages… FitzGerald handles the two plots brilliantly, deftly intertwining them and bringing them together in a shocking, visceral climax.”
The BookSeller – Great review – My Last Confession
30th March 2009
Emma Carter, Borders UK Merchandiser said the following in The Bookseller’s READING FOR PLEASURE section on 27-03-09: ‘Having enjoyed DEAD LOVELY, I was keen to read the sequel, MY LAST CONFESSION … Throughout, FitzGerald’s characters are well depicted and quirky, from our slightly damaged heroine to supporting characters such as Danny the blind social worker with biting wit. I especially love the bleak comedy and slightly manic edge this novel has which reflects Krissie’s state of mind. Colourful characters, dramatic plot twists and vibrant vernacular make MY LAST CONFESSION a great read.’
DEAD LOVELY NO 16!
24th March 2009
After being chosen as a WH Smith Travel Read of the Week in Feburary 2009, Dead Lovely entered the stores nationwide bestseller charts at No. 16.
THE DEVIL’S STAIRCASE CHOSEN AS BOOK CLUB ASSOCIATES EDITOR’S CHOICE
24th March 2009
The Devil’s Staircase, to be released in the UK by Polygon in April 2009, has been chosen as Editor’s Choice for Book Club Associates.
DAILY MAIL PAPERBACK REVIEW – DEAD LOVELY
2nd February 2009
‘Chatty and casual … this has the bounding hop of a piece of chick-lit, unexpectedly coupled with dark comedy.’ Daily Mail Jan 09
6th October 2008
Great review in October issue of Literary Review (UK)…
“Of the four first novels under review this month… Helen FitzGerald’s Dead Lovely stands out as the freshest and most interesting new voice. It is, for a start, set in Scotland, and has a darkly witty, sardonic tone that is sustained throughout… FitzGerald has written something startling, menacing and original.”
14th August 2008
The Daily Telegraph: 50 OF THE BEST HOLIDAY READS, JULY 08
For quality chick-lit with a murderous twist, look no further than Fitzgerald’s inimical brand of thinking woman’s noir.
‘A Grand Guignol comedy set in Glasgow and on the West Highland Way … FitzGerald has written an accomplished and gloriously black comedy that belies her status as a debut novelist.’
The Big Issue
‘A gripping, addictive psycho-thriller, Dead Lovely succeeds largely thanks to an off-beat, absurdist sense of humour that turns the books disturbing and obscene topics into startlingly original comic material.’
‘While hiking in the highlands … festering resentments erupt into adultery, weird sex and madness (sounds like the best holiday ever to us). Great fun and oddly moving.’
‘I found plenty to enjoy in Helen FitzGerald’s debut … a real page turner.’
DENISE MINA (THE DEAD HOUR) – ENDORSEMENT
23rd January 2008
“I loved it! The settings, geographic and emotional, are deeply familiar and yet terrifyingly strange. It’s a thrilling debut from a writer of such talent and assurance it’s hard to believe this is her first book. I’ve never read anything that captures that epic bewilderment of new motherhood with such elegance and clarity.”
MO HAYDER (TOKYO, BIRDMAN) ENDORSEMENT
23rd January 2008
Picture your best friend. Now picture something terrible has happened to them. Now imagine it was you who did it……..
Dead Lovely is not like being on a roller coaster ride. It’s like being strapped into a tiger moth flown by an aerobatic flying ace with a grudge. Outrageous, clever, funny, poignant. Helen Fitzgerald really is one to watch.
More great reviews of Dead Lovely
Women behaving badly in the Highlands
Mark Abernethy | December 22, 2007
WOMEN’S popular fiction can be tricky for a man. Someone gives you a book, tells you briefly that it’s about an intense female friendship gone wrong, that one of them has an affair with the other’s husband and there are envy problems with babies and, well, a bloke is inwardly groaning.
But then I read the first two paragraphs of Dead Lovely by Australian first-time novelist Helen FitzGerald. I subsequently read this mad and bad, hilarious crime thriller in two sittings.
Dead Lovely follows two lifelong friends, Krissie and Sarah, who live in Glasgow. Sarah has a husband, Kyle, and their perfect yuppie lives have moved to the point where Sarah wants babies. But she doesn’t want babies with the dull, nesting instincts of female yearning. She wants a baby, she wants it now, and Kyle is dragged from work at all hours to perform his conjugal chores according to Sarah’s thermometer readings.
Meanwhile, Krissie is having sex in a nightclub toilet in Tenerife while high on some drug. And back in Scotland, where she works as a social worker in the criminal justice system, she finds she’s pregnant.
The psychological pressure starts to rise as we wonder who will lose it first: Sarah, the obsessed and now envious woman who can’t get pregnant, or her best friend Krissie, the accidentally single mother who is gripped by postnatal depression but not enough to douse her substantial sex drive? Kyle is trapped between these time bombs like a mouse stuck with two drooling cats.
To get away from it all the three of them go on Scotland’s West Highland hiking trail, where Krissie has an affair with Kyle. Thus begins a wild ride through the darker aspects of the female psyche, a place of murder, madness, jealousy, cold rage, hot tempers, cruel revenge and retribution via bodily functions.
It’s a story written with commercial conventions, albeit with the clever use of shifting points of view. But beneath the crunchy thriller prose is a subliminal track that deals with all the feminine rage and weirdness that scares men so much and may even frighten women about themselves.
The format is part crime novel and part thriller, so I won’t drop any spoilers about the back end of the story. But the thing that sets this fast-paced novel apart from other crime fiction is its humour. FitzGerald can write laugh-out-loud scenes and she has managed to do what Fay Weldon did in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, which is to find the joke in what appals us.
I have no doubt this novel will gain a cult following among women while their boyfriends and husbands will avoid it: when a man and a woman decide to remove their clothes and take their friendship to a new level, it would end much better for everyone if the woman left the carving knife in the kitchen drawer, where it belongs.
At this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival, FitzGerald was bracketed with crime writers such as Louise Penny. But the crime classification isn’t sufficient for this book. Dead Lovely has lots of gore, but no pathologists in tiled rooms telling us what happens when a blade hits the carotid artery. It isn’t the inside-out Patricia Cornwell format; it’s outside-in. That is, the crimes and who did them is not the mystery, so much as how Krissie and Sarah got to be this way.
Dead Lovely is a crime thriller but its lasting impact is far more in the vein of Weldon (Life and Loves, The Heart of the Country) and Tama Janowitz’s A Certain Age. There’s a jaunty hint of Jilly Cooper, but with saws, body parts and tent pegs as weapons. In the end this is Krissie’s story and through her boozing, drugs, promiscuity, criminal tendencies, bad choices and poor motherhood, it is refreshing to come across a female protagonist who is not sympathetic. She’s likable, she’s recognisable, she’s human and she’s funny, but if she deserves sympathy, we’re not shown why until very late in the story.
Most publishers of commercial female fiction won’t touch a novel in which the protagonist is not officially sympathetic. Somehow, FitzGerald got away with it and the result is much better: a female protagonist who’s compelling.
Mark Abernethy is a Sydney writer.
THE ADELAIDE REVIEW
7th January 2008
BEST READS FROM THE PAST YEAR
Adelaide writer and broadcaster
… Helen Fitzgerald… debut was Dead Lovely (A&U). She grew up as one of Thirteen Little Australians; in Glasgow, she’s a parole officer who borrows screenwriter husband’s tricks with a feel for right-between-the-eyes tactics, including ‘working blue’ with convincing sangfroid. Rivalrous best friends, each precariously balanced, career towards irretrievable mistakes, acutely and sympathetically charted all the way into madness. Audaciously plotted, energy to burn, sociological acumen underpinning a great story.
Posted on 20 Dec 2007
SUPERB REVIEWS FOR DEAD LOVELY LAUNCH IN AUSTRALIA
9th October 2007
“A book you won’t put down… It’s Addictive – CSI-meets-Sex and the City!” (Cosmopolitan)
Chosen by The Australian Women’s Weekly as one of THE GREAT CHRISTMAS READS…”You won’t hear a word as old Uncle Charlie drones on after christmas lunch once you open this thriller.”
“Not to be missed, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat till the very last page!” FIVE STARS. (New Woman Magazine)
“Savagely Gruesome… Wicked!” (Townsville Bulletin)
“Enormously enjoyable… will definitely appeal to a wide range of readers, not just devotees of crime fiction.” (Readings)
“Comes together beautifully… Great Fun.” FOUR STARS – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, (Good Reading Magazine)
“None of the villains are wholly bad and none of the good guys are well-behaved in this funny and complex book about all the things we get wrong. Tragic but ultimately heart-warming, it grabbed me at the start and didn’t let go ’til the end.” (Clare Sudbery, Bookarazzi).
“If you’re a girl I’d recommend a panty liner in public because you will come close to pissing your pants laughing… Can’t recommend this book enough. Loved it and will be reading anything Fitzgerald writes.” (Amra Pajalic, Aust Crime Fiction).