Blood by Maggie Gee review – slapstick and psychology | Books


Blood is a multilayered title in Maggie Gee’s latest novel. It’s thicker than water, binding together a violent and dysfunctional family in complicated loyalties, and it’s also splashed around with gusto in a literal sense throughout the book, which opens with bullying patriarch Albert Ludd apparently bludgeoned to death by his strapping middle daughter, Monica. But whether Monica was responsible, and whether Albert is dead at all, are the twin mysteries that launch the story.

Neither remains a mystery for long, though. The book is described as a thriller, but it’s more of a mashup of Grand Guignol and farce. Monica, who delivers the lion’s share of the narrative, is a larger-than-life, outspoken guide to the Ludd family’s dark history. Her four surviving siblings are all presented as grotesques: the enormous twin brothers, Angus and Boris, both autistic tech billionaires; younger sister Fairy, an internationally famous model with eating disorders and a penchant for violent boyfriends; Anthea, “all fake tan and fake nails”, who Monica suspects is gay but won’t come out. Only the youngest, Fred, seems to have been vaguely normal, but he was killed in Afghanistan after joining the army to escape their father; the remaining Ludd children hold him directly responsible for their brother’s death.

But Albert’s sons and daughters are not the only ones who want him dead. A secondary first-person account reveals that a character called Adoncia, a middle-aged Spanish woman involved on the fringes of organised crime and people trafficking, had also vowed revenge on Albert. Dual narratives always run the risk of imbalance, and Monica is such a forceful narrator that the reader is reluctant to leave her company; Adoncia’s interjections always feel like a distraction. If Monica’s siblings are cartoonish, distinguished only by their outre characteristics, Adoncia is even less convincing as a character the more we hear from her. Her pidgin English relies on comedy-foreigner cliches, making her sound like Manuel from Fawlty Towers (“I pull up blouse and show him my boobies. They nice booby, I always know”). It’s a bizarre authorial choice, and grows wearing after more than a couple of sentences.

READ  Huawei opens a Center for Cyber Security Transparency in Bruxelles

Monica, for all her brashness and misanthropy, does elicit sympathy from the reader. She is funny and resourceful, a survivor who put herself through university and has ended up a deputy head despite a childhood characterised by violence and the constant threats of her father to “break you” or “finish you”. Gee is exploring the perennial questions of how to break the cycle of violence passed down the generations, and the ways in which men (and sometimes women) exercise control through fear. Viewed in that light, the frankly implausible plot can seem no more far-fetched than the blood-soaked tragedies of the Greek or Jacobean stage, which are its obvious antecedents. She draws wider implications too; the story takes place in a Britain ground down by interminable Brexit on one hand, and a rise in terrorist attacks on the other, in which violence, domestic and political, has become normalised.

Blood is a curious novel, which all too often feels like a tussle between two different books vying for the upper hand: one, a serious and timely examination of male brutality and its enduring psychological effects on women and children; the other, a slapstick sex and murder caper. Occasionally, the novel hits a sweet spot between the two; too often, though, the absurdity undercuts any real feeling for the characters. Towards the end, Adoncia concludes: “Life is shit, if you are woman.” But Monica offers a more ambiguous note, with the suggestion that the legacy of violence might end when women make their voices heard.

Blood by Maggie Gee is published by Fentum Press (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

READ  Liverpool Fan Starts Petition To Review The Goal-Line Technology In Manchester City Game



READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here