A novel I read on the way home from our recent holiday on my Kindle, and it was perfect for that. Thank you to Pan MacMillan for making it available via NetGalley and approving me to read it in return for an honest review. What a fabulous cover, by the way, which really takes in the 70s start of the book and partly hippie ethos.

Joanna Nadin – “The Queen of Bloody Everything”

(Downloaded 12 January 2018; published 08 February 2018)

Dido, originally unwanted daughter of the rackety, fascinating Edie, falls in love at first sight with the conspicuously normal family who live over the back fence of the house they move into upon a sudden and saving inheritance. Edie’s come from a mixed line of conventional and unconventional folk, and I loved that it was an eccentric aunt who lifted them just above the poverty line. While Dido is frantically learning how to fit in, Harry, the daughter of the house, is copying Edie and wanting a mum just like her – and indeed, pretty well the only mother-like action Edie takes relates to Harry and not Dido. Meanwhile unreachable Tom hovers in Dido’s mind as the perfect man who she’s determined but not quite brave enough to capture (and I read him as gay for a little while, actually).

I loved the set pieces in the novel and how they related to the times the characters go through – Dido is a couple of years older than me, so I can remember the events and feelings and things she experiences very well. The best set piece is when some of Edie’s London friends come to visit at a moment where all Dido wants to do is fit in with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee street party – but she’s by turns horrified and exhilarated when an out and proud lesbian and two black guys come striding through their very monocultural neighbourhood to claim her as their own. The reactions of the mothers and other children is so well done. I also love the character of Edie’s best friend, Toni, always there, even in her 60s with purple hair, a fabulous character.

Dido is written so well, her language changing as she grows up, which is very convincing (Nadin was previously a YA author and this shows in her confident command of the early and teenage years – I felt it became a little less inventive in Dido’s 20s, perhaps reading a bit too like novels like “One Day”). The drama and family happenings and character development are set cleverly against nationwide events in the 1970s to 200s, and life in Saffron Walden is contrasted with life in London – I loved the ideas of “going back” which came through here. It feels a little autobiographical, especially near the end, but the relationships are sharply drawn and believable as a novel, making a good, page-turning read.

I also loved the emphasis on reading subtly woven through the book, and the children’s book chapter headings. And when Dido comes to her turning point, she’s cheeringly buoyed by both her favourite female characters from classic literature and her mum’s no-bullshit attitude, to great effect.

A note on the title: I know quite a few readers don’t like swear words in books and might be put off by the title. There’s as much swearing in the book as you’d expect given the context and the title is drawn from a very believable event near the start of the book. I hope it doesn’t lose it readers as I’d be happy to recommend this book.