I discovered Kevin MacNeil’s The Beautiful & Forever on a particularly successful bookshop browse. The title and cover drew me in and the Scottish island setting and the blurb on the back cover ensured that it came home with me.
On an island like no other, the annual Brilliant & Forever festival is a much anticipated event; its participants a story away from either glory or infamy.
This year, three best friends – two human, one alpaca – are chosen to compete, so victory is not only about reward.
Kevin MacNeil had me from the first paragraph of this beauty. He made me do a double-take while reading, and then laugh, and any author who does that in the first paragraph is likely to win my bookish heart. Besides, this book is about an island of writers who are gearing up for the annual literary festival: a festival unlike any other and one which exposes the preferences, prejudices and tensions within the island society. Which might make the reader think about their own society and its mentality, whether an actual island or one merely in terms of its attitude towards outsiders.
If you’re a writer or have ever been to a literary festival or a book event, this will especially appeal to you. There are egos, stories and every sort of writerly character here for you to enjoy. But it also works if that’s not your thing because it’s a novel about community and friendship, hierarchy and class, happiness and fulfilment, creativity, society and perceived outsiders. And Kevin MacNeil tells his story with a deal of quirk, whimsy, humour through the prism of three friends, one of whom is the novel’s narrator. And you probably won’t realise just how much is at stake for all of them until it’s too late and you find yourself caring and deeply upset when events take a turn in the book.
The Beautiful & Forever is a great read: it is beautiful and I wanted it to last forever.
The Beautiful & Forever by Kevin MacNeil is published by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Limited, and is available as an ebook and in paperback. You can listen to Kevin MacNeil talking about the book here. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. You can find out more about Kevin MacNeil and his writing and music on his Website or on Twitter.