I’m so behind on my reviews, here are two shorter ones…
Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float before he Stole my Ma by Kerry Hudson
This debut novel was our book group read this month. The title is rather off-putting, sounding like a C&W ballad, but it is apt – for the main theme of this book is things given then taken away. The first paragraph certainly sets the tone:
Get out, you c**ting, shitting little fucking fucker!” were the first words I ever head. The midwife, a shiny-faced woman who learned entirely new turns of phrase that night, smoothed Ma’s hair.
This is young Janie Ryan’s story, it begins in Aberdeen and travels from there to Canterbury, Sunderland and Great Yarmouth as her Ma moves her family to escape a succession of wrong men, and paying the rent. Janie’s is a life of poverty, living on benefits, living in awful council flats or B&Bs that take DHSS, eating the cheapest foods, always changing schools. It is totally grim, yet throughout it all Janie has optimism and hope and belief that her life will be different. You feel so much for Janie’s mum stuck in the poverty trap, it’s all too real. In Janie though, Hudson has created a resilient, fiesty and loveable young heroine.
We all agreed that the writing was great, and most of our book group really loved this book, only one found it too grim to enjoy. I loved it. (9/10)
Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings
Yes, this is the first book behind the hit TV series Killing Eve. I’m usually a firm believer in always reading the book before seeing the film/play/programme etc, so I’ve come about this the wrong way around, but I so enjoyed the TV series, adapted by the wonderful Phoebe Waller-Bridge (PWB), that I was intrigued to read the source material to compare and contrast.
The four stories that make up the first book were originally published as e-book singles between 2014-16. Before we meet anyone else, we meet ‘The Twelve’, a shady organisation that is obviously working towards world domination – they are the paymasters and we find out nothing more about them other than they order a hit on a Mafia Don. Villanelle will make the hit – which was one of two that appeared in the first episode of the TV series. On TV, PWB saved Villanelle’s back story for a later episode but Jennings mixes it in much earlier. Conversely, in the book, we don’t meet Eve Polastri until page 47:
Thames House, the headquarters of the British security service MI5, is on Millbank, in Westminster. In the northern-most office on the third floor, Eve Polastri is looking down at Lambeth Bridge and the wind-blurred surface of the river. It’s 4 p.m. and she has just learnt, with mixed feelings, that she is not pregnant.
Eve is younger and English in the book, but the rest of her life is moreorless the same. Konstantin, Villanelle’s handler, is portrayed very similarly too – particularly the sparky conversations with the hitwoman:
His expression hardens. ‘This is not how I want things to be between us, Villanelle. I don’t want to have to negotiate every decision.’
‘I know you don’t. You want me to be your killer doll. Wind me up, point me at the target, bang bang and back in my box.’ She looks him in the eye. ‘Sorry, but that’s not how I function these days.’
‘I see. So how do you function, exactly?’
‘Like a thinking, feeling human being.’
There are many scenes you’ll recognise from the TV series, including that nasty one where she was a ‘nurse’ in a unique kind of brothel. The locations sometimes differ, and Eve’s new boss is male, not Fiona Shaw. Presumably, the events at the end of the TV series occur in the second book, No Tomorrow, for they’re not in this first book – or they may not appear at all! PWB’s adaptation certainly makes the TV series more feminine, although the two women are to the fore in the novel, they’re even more prominent on the telly, and the black humour comes over with that PWB touch on screen; it is there in the book, but more traditionally done.
I enjoyed the book a lot, will happily read the next, and a third is out next year – but I loved the TV series. However, as a female thriller lead, Modesty Blaise (see here) knocks spots off Villanelle in my book! (8/10)