I was lucky enough to hear South West based writer Joanna Nadin read from the opening chapter of her adult fiction debut, The Queen of Bloody Everything at the How to Get Published conference in December and I have been waiting not-so-patiently to read it ever since. Imagine my delight then if you will, when I was offered an advanced-review copy by NetGalley....
Much like protagonist Dido (who dives into her new life in Essex with a charming sense of gusto) I dove into the pages of this novel with great enthusiasm, the sound of Nadin’s narration ringing in my ears as I landed smack-dab in the middle of the long hot summer of 1976.
The first thing to note is how vividly Dido (six years old at the novel’s outset) is rendered into life. Her triumphs were endearing, her embarrassments burning and her thoughts so utterly believable that I knew I trust her to tell a captivating story throughout. Perhaps this is due to Nadin’s extensive young-adult and children’s catalogue, but there was something so honest and raw about Dido that compelled me to root for her throughout.
There is a child-like omniscience here, the spangled, chaotic Seventies of this novel is appraised over and delivered with biting wit and frankness that is certainly refreshing. Indeed, it is because of the strength of Dido both as a character and a narrator that unveils some of the complex issues at the novel’s heart. With its focus on fiction, books, memoir, memory and the stories we tell ourselves and others, the novel seems to push the reader to consider the fickle nature of our human relationship with the truth and examines on a microscopic level, the relationship between mothers and daughters and the ripples they can have on every aspect of lives – both separately and together.
At a point when we may be craving a return to a time that was simpler, Nadin has expertly rendered a tale which explores the fact that no matter which decade we are in our lives are touched by complication. The idea of constructing a fantasy life, of creating a new identity is a major factor in this novel: whether it is in Dido’s pursuit of adventure in the Narnia of Harry and Tom’s garden or her desire to be part of their ‘normal’ family or indeed in Edie’s constant need to surround herself with people who make her feel whole. This notion of recreating, restyling and rebuilding, of escaping even, is something that was instantly relatable and something which thanks to this charmingly nostalgic novel the reader is offered the chance to achieve even if Dido and Edie are not.
A major take-away from this novel for me was the underlying notion that with self-belief and perseverance, a child who faced adversity could don a costume and become, well, The Queen of Bloody Everything and that for me, made this an essential and important read for 2018.
The Queen of Bloody Everything is due for publication on 8th February by Mantle.