Written as a sprawling letter, Martine McDonagh’s Narcissism for Beginners is the story of Sonny Anderson’s quest to unlock some answers to his past while over in the UK touring locations from his favourite movie.
Meet Sonny Anderson: budding author, ex-meth-head, neurotic and Shaun of the Dead obsessive. Sonny doesn’t remember his mother because when he was five, his father kidnapped him from his home in Scotland and took him to live on a commune in the Brazilian outback.
Since the age of eleven, he has lived in Southern California with his enigmatic guardian, Thomas – but on his twenty-first birthday he receives a gift that will throw his life wildly off course, all over again.
Armed with five mysterious letters and a list of addresses, Sonny musters the courage to return to the UK and finally learn the truth about his childhood. As the story of his past unravels, though, he’s less sure it’s the truth he wants to hear.
Sonny’s only twenty-one when we meet him but he already seems to have lived more lives than most people ever will. The unsentimental manner in which this is relayed makes some of what’s happened seem less far-fetched and more credible than if it had come from a different narrator.
I liked Sonny almost immediately; there’s a frenetic energy emanating from him which pulls you along with it through all his abrupt changes of tack. His voice is refreshingly different, his wit and delivery both sharp, and I enjoyed seeing the world and other people through his eyes. (In fact, I even went back and read the book a second time after having finished it to enjoy some of that description again.)
Anyone who’s ever set off on a hunt for their favourite book or film locations will enjoy accompanying Sonny on his erratic odyssey around Britain. You don’t have to have watched Shaun of the Dead in order to enjoy this book, but if you know the film, it will be all the funnier and more poignant for that. And the fact that he has five letters to open along the way inside his own novel-length letter only added to the pleasure my letter-writing self had in reading this.
Narcissism for Beginners is a wonderfully offbeat quest for answers, a young man’s stumble around Britain in search of his family, which poses the question of just what a family is – the people who make us, the ones who raise us or those we choose to have in our lives. Told with a real lightness of touch, this is a sad yet also very funny coming-of-age road trip which is well worth your time taking.
Narcissism for Beginners by Martine McDonagh is published by Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher. It is available as an ebook, in hardback and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or Hive which helps support your local independent bookshop. Narcissism for Beginners is shortlisted for the 2018/19 People’s Book Prize and longlisted for the 2017 Guardian Not The Booker Prize. For more on the author, check out her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to Unbound for sending me a review copy.
*Giveaway* I’ve bought a copy to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner.