What should Monica Ludd, the fearless sister to five other Ludd siblings, do when she finds their horrible father beaten to a pulp? And what does the dysfunctional Ludd family’s predicament tell us about Brexit Britain?
“The Ludds. Artistes of awfulness” is how noted British novelist Gee (Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, 2014, etc.) introduces the bizarre family around which she builds her tragicomedy of revenge. Monica, 38, 6-foot-1, “an amazon, strong, deep-chested, solid haunches,” narrates the book, haunted by the fearsome childhood she endured. Her twin brothers, Boris and Angus, “two jut-jawed Herculeses,” their wand-thin model sister, Fairy, and another sister, glamazon Anthea, lived in dread of their cruel father, Albert, whose pitilessness forced the last child, Fred, into the army; he was killed in Afghanistan. But for all her power, Monica is not quite as tough as she seems. Discovering Albert’s bloody, smashed-up body after a party to celebrate Fred's life, she flees, beginning a chain of farcical events that exposes both her resourcefulness and her vulnerability. The Ludds live in Thanet, a spit of land in southern England, “the end and beginning of Britain,” and Gee’s nonstop procession of grotesques, slapstick, and sideswipes at Brexit and domestic terrorism attempts to point up connections between violence in personal relationships and other, larger scenarios. Lurid and breathless, driven by galumphing characters and some belly laughs, this furious tale of brutal times and remedies doesn’t quite make that link, but the wild ride, underpinned by its author’s sharp perceptions, entertains quite a bit. A horror movie–esque last act sees the family coming together to defeat oppression and Monica transformed at last from lone warrior to larger-than-life local hero. Even if the novel can seem unsettled, she’s irresistible.
A vibrant parable of abuse and survival, stronger on the family front than the national one.