One of the exciting things about launching the Indie Book Network is having the chance to provide a space for people who don't have a blog or bookstagram to review books, and today we're very excited to host our first guest review. Old & Ugly is the first publication from brand new indie Behind the Hat Press and we're happy to welcome Hetty to the blog to review it!
Old & Ugly is a wild read. Told from the perspective of Ange, an aging and overweight ex-beauty queen, it recounts her reunion with her former best friend, Elizabeth. As teenagers in the 70s, Ange and Elizabeth enter the Miss Sladport-on-Sea Beauty Pageant. Despite the pageant being disrupted by protestors, it is a turning point for Ange, who manages to win. She goes on to be crowned Most Beautiful Woman in the UK, then Most Beautiful Woman in the World. A string of marriages to wealthy, challenging men follow, with Ange embracing a luxury lifestyle.
When Ange and Elizabeth reunite after forty years, the pair engage in a ferocious battle of jibes and digs, while also encouraging each other to do a little soul searching and self-scrutiny. As well as confronting the rift between them, they manage to exorcise some of the demons that have haunted their glamorous but troubled lives.
Having been sent a review copy of Old & Ugly, and with no idea what to expect, I was gripped by the first few pages. Ange is unwillingly driven off to meet Elizabeth at her country manor, and it is clear from this point that the two women have a complicated, intertwined past. Old & Ugly did not disappoint in terms of providing drama, and there were several comedic mishaps (involving a handsome stranger breaking down in a snowstorm, feminists arguing in a hot tub, and a game of Monopoly getting out of hand, amongst other things).
While I found Old & Ugly entertaining in places, it was quite a difficult read. The writing is humorous throughout but some of the jokes did not land for me. Overweight Ange is used as the butt of much slapstick humour, tumbling down stairs and squishing people by sitting on them. Her disordered eating is also a source of humour. There were other bleak elements in the novel, including abusive past relationships, that I felt were treated too lightly and did not work with the novel’s comedic style. In spite of this, I found Ange and Elizabeth to be sympathetic characters, especially as their back stories were revealed. As a reader, I wanted to know what had happened to them and for them to fix their strained friendship.
Ange's ability to find beauty in everything and her desire to do the right thing made her particularly likeable. She also had some great one-liners, such as: "I pause, as I always used to when entering a room, to allow [for] any admiration...I have always found admiration warming, like hot milk and cinnamon...". It was fun to read about her beauty queen antics – a life of “yachts, cocktails, husbands and cashmere” – and to see her overcome the incidents that had held her back. As the first title from Behind the Hat Press and the author, C L Moir, Old & Ugly is a good first effort. It is definitely worth picking up if you are after a diverting romp of a read and can cope with a little strangeness.
Hetty is an English graduate working in publishing. She has previously been shortlisted in the WritersHQ Flash Fiction competition. When not writing, she enjoys wild swimming and exploring new places. Twitter @hetty__m