A savvy, comic/gothic debut exploring the angry mania of teenage alienation.
With its characteristically sardonic title, Cross’s impressive, dark first fiction (a Betty Trask award-winner) is the extreme opposite of a sunny romance, more like a gathering thunderstorm, set in 1984 in a Yorkshire village where the stench of blood and guts hangs in the atmosphere—both the actual by-product of the local tannery and the symbolic fear of a serial murderer at large. Narrator Mona, 15, is a roiling stew of hormones and teenage disgust: “Sex, alcohol and crime were my only desires.” Her contempt begins at home, which she shares with her promiscuous father (a pub landlord), stepmother and obese stepbrother PorkChop. Mona’s mother left home three years earlier, then succumbed to cancer. Mona’s escape is to groom a pony belonging to the posh Fakenhams, whose wealth fails to insulate them from similar dysfunction. The parents are separating after Mr. Fakenham’s latest infidelity, the eldest daughter Sadie is dead of anorexia and younger child Tamsin is back home after trouble at boarding school. Despite the class divide, Tamsin and Mona are natural allies, united in irony, anorexic aspiration, booze and adolescent outrage. With both her parents absent, Tamsin invites Mona to stay and a period of vandalism and physical excess begins, tempered with sexual experimentation. Despite Mona’s commitment to Tamsin, she is also drawn into involvement with sleazy local photographer Phil, who takes pictures of her topless and reveals photos of another girl, Julie Flowerdew, who might be the latest murder victim. Themes of disappearance and death intensify, as the teenagers’ fantasies bleed into the real world and they manipulate Phil for cash while implicating him in the murder investigation. Although Tamsin’s intensity becomes suffocating, Mona fails to break away. The spiral tightens, and the story ends with an unexpected, horrific and collusive act of violence.
Scabrous and cleverly evocative of the confusion of emergent adulthood, Cross’s blistering prose lifts a familiar storyline to another level.