Sunday, 5 May 2013
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
It was clear from reading the synopsis of The Wicked Girls that this wasn't going to be any old ordinary thriller. Bel and Jade were only children themselves when they were convicted of the murder of a 4-year-old girl. Twenty-five years later they are released, re-homed, given brand new identities - Amber and Kirsty. And they will be left to get on with their new, essentially normal, lives as long as they meet two conditions; firstly, that they check in with an allocated law enforcement officer on a regular basis. And secondly, that they never attempt to contact each other again. But a chance encounter throws them together when one of the women, a journalist, is reporting on a crime that has occurred at the other woman's place of work in Whitmouth, a failing seaside resort. The town is teeming with media types and police officers and it seems it will be only a matter of time before they are found out.
This would be a great book club choice. It gave me loads to think about and provoked a lot of moral reflection on my part. Unfortunately, to really get my teeth into the details I'd have to give away a whole load of spoilers. No doubt you can generally imagine how the subject matter of child criminals could spark so much discussion, though. How much responsibility can a child bear for their actions? Are children born with an inherently evil aspect to their personality, or does the potential for evil depend upon their background? If someone has had a tough upbringing, does that go any way to excuse their wrongdoings?
I found it slightly implausible that one of the women would seek out a career in journalism. I mean, if I was in her shoes I would shy away from the media and the public eye as much as possible. But this detail allowed for some interesting observations of the role and responsibility of the press. The Leveson Inquiry was obviously at the forefront of the author's mind when writing this book, and I was certainly reminded of recent events when reading about Kirsty's encounters with her fellow 'hacks'. On one hand we saw Kirsty as the subject of anger from a local resident who was appalled at the way she had depicted his town as a dilapidated, crime-ridden hole. But elsewhere she was angry about the way in which her childhood self had been portrayed in the newspapers and felt that facts had been exaggerated. Despite her past experiences I felt that she remained pretty unscrupulous when it came to her work.
While The Wicked Girls impressed me with the way it deftly navigates a number of weighty themes, I can't say I had a particularly good time reading it. None of the characters were particularly likeable, and that isn't just me judging them based on their past offences - there just isn't much warmth to anyone in the book. I also flinched at many clumsy stereotypical descriptions of the less well-off characters in the book, like Jade's chaotic family and Amber's colleagues at work on night shifts cleaning the funfair. They are all portrayed as work-shy, promiscuous gossips. Well, the British ones are. There is one immigrant character who has a big work ethic and works multiple jobs, is very pious, and for whom the most important thing in her life is providing a quality education for her son. But rather than giving balance and variety to the group, she is the exception that proves the rule, if you see what I mean. On the whole it's a very dark read, and while some of my favourite books are very, very dark in a deliciously chilling way, this one was a bit unrelenting and depressing.
So I would describe this as a thought-provoking read rather than an enjoyable one. I suspect I would have got more out of it if I had read it with a group of other people. The Wicked Girls was sitting at the top of my wishlist for ages, and isn't it sod's law that just a few days after I decided to treat myself to a copy I spotted it in The Works going for a couple of quid. So if this review has piqued your interest it might be worth popping into your local branch for a bargain.