Billie Morgan is a woman in her mid-forties, running a jewellery shop in Bradford and perpetually trying to accommodate her past. She's a working-class lass who's at odds with her family, a former biker chick, divorced, adores her godson Natty, tries her best to look after Natty's heroin-addict mother Jas, wears a lot of black. She's hounded by the Black Dog of depression.
Billie Morgan is a murderer.
I bought this book because on first glance I couldn't work out why it had been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. The writing is plain and vividly characterised: I have to read something else by the author now, to see just how different her style is when she's writing from a different point of view, because it's the sort of book that makes you feel you really are reading a diary: it's that intimate, that unfaltering.
From the very first page (and indeed the blurb) the fact that Billie's a murderer is foregrounded. That's not a secret: but there are secrets, equally terrible, that are only gradually revealed. The events that unfold -- not just in the past, in Billie's youth, but in the present day -- have the scale and resonance of Greek tragedy. Denby's writing, earthy and straightforward (if occasionally over-adjectival) pulls no punches.
Negative points? I'm never keen on writing that tries to transcribe the patterns of an accent: but at least she only does it in dialogue. And set against lines like "a grey-muzzled old dog fox, lithe and wick as a dusty russet flame", I'll forgive her.
The obligatory "this book is 'about'" line: it's about closure, about coping, about missing fathers and wicked mothers; it's about new perspectives on the past, and coming to terms with unpleasant truths.
I bet Billie Morgan would drive me up the wall in real life: but I liked her a lot in this book, and I'm very highly impressed with the novel.
reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place