Thursday, 7 January 2010

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross

I picked this up after watching Pawel Pawelikowski’s beautiful film version, but Helen Cross’s stunning debut novel is much more raw and visceral than its dramatisation. I read it again for the blog and found it even more spellbinding and shocking than I had the first time.

Bored by her dysfunctional home life shared with her publican father and overweight stepbrother, PorkChop, fifteen-year-old Mona spends her time drinking, playing on fruit machines and starting out a minor criminal career of petty burglary. Against the backdrop of the escalating miners' strike, Mona meets the rich and beautiful Tamsin.

Tamsin seduces Mona with a terrible lie that her sister has starved herself to death and Mona is quickly besotted by Tamsin’s every word:

She had pronounced my name heavily, the way Lindy used to when emphasising the meaning she originally intended. Tamsin’s eyelids were drooping. That was the first time that it occurred to me that she was a drinker. A true, heavy, girl drinker... Oh praise the Lord she was a drinker!

Mona plots to spend the summer with Tamsin who is alone, ignored by her preoccupied and selfish parents. Tam shows her around their big house:

“Next, Mona, proof that you don’t have to die to go to heaven,” she said when I caught up with her at the bottom of the stairs. “You’ll like this one darling.” “Oh?” I exclaimed brightly. “The cellar. Rows and rows of dusty bottles of booze just waiting for girl drinkers.”

Drunken antics escalate from high jinx to malicious and increasingly destructive pranks. As Mona gets herself deeper and deeper into trouble, her devotion to Tamsin is the only thing that keeps her going. When she finally discovers that Tam has been lying to her all summer she is distraught, but agrees one last attempt to run away together:

“Let’s go,” whispered Tam, pushing her damp fingers through mine. “Let’s get some wicked liqueur first, honey,” I said, and lifted a bottle from the new drinks tray which rested on the sideboard in the hall.

Demented on gin, they stumble into the unfortunate PorkChop and the summer suddenly gets a lot nastier...

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