Well, November’s book was… an experience. One that all members of Book Club agreed is not going to be repeated any time soon, because we haven’t got the stamina to survive a second round! (The book we read was the first in a 6 book series. We aren’t sure how the last five made it to print…)
This post will involve spoilers because it would be too hard to articulate everything I want to say without doing so. If you have God Don’t Like Ugly by Mary Munroe on your reading list and don’t want to know what happens, then you probably shouldn’t read on.
First up, I don’t know who from Publisher’s Weekly read this to write that review but this book was neither satisfying or a page-turner. During the four thousand years that it took me to slog through it (that’s how long it felt, anyway), I wrote four sides of notes about it and I think the most positive thing I said was ‘This bit was almost interesting.’
Overall, the whole book felt like a series of events – mostly recalled from memory rather than ‘live-action’ – and info-dumps shoe-horned together and linked up by repetitive rape, domestic violence and large quantities of food. It felt like absolutely nothing happened throughout the entire novel and yet when we sat and talked about it, lots did happen we were just so bored out of our minds that we neither cared nor really noticed.
We tried the ‘Sexy Lamp’ test on all the characters and pretty much all of them failed. Including the first person narrator whose name I failed to remember at any point, which probably says quite a lot in itself. (The ‘Sexy Lamp’ test is where you see if you could replace a character – usually female in films but not always – with a Sexy Lamp and not have the story change. Meaning the character is just there for decoration and has no real personality or interest to the audience.) Almost every single character in the book failed the Sexy Lamp test. That shouldn’t be possible. But they did because most of them did nothing of value and the story never really advanced anywhere so they didn’t develop either.
Okay, SPOILERS REALLY START NOW, if you’re still reading and still want to pick up the book.
Right from the off, I disliked the narrator, Annette. (I looked her name up in my notes) She is selfish, greedy and incredibly dull – there really doesn’t seem to be anything else to her other than the fact that she is massively overweight. It’s the only thing she ever seemed to say or think about herself and so by the end that was just her personality – fat.
By the 13% point of the Kindle version, seven year old Annette had experienced (quite graphic) rape at the hands of her mother’s house lodger, Mr Boatwright.
I have so many issues with this, the main two being:
- First person narrative from the victim is NOT the right way to handle the topic
- The way she reacted and responded was not the response of a seven year old. It was too knowledgable and grown up, too understanding of the situation and too composed. It felt incredibly false and took the scene from utterly horrifying to just grotesque.
The rape continues at very regular intervals for almost half of the book as Annette grows up. So regularly that you become bored with it.
Rape becomes boring.
That is wrong. I felt very uncomfortable with the inner eye-roll, here-we-go-again response I started having to it – that is not a response you should have to rape, but that’s what you got and at times it felt like the characters were bored of it all as well.
Oh and by 18% through necrophilia and beastiality have also featured during a very random conversation scene, just in case child abuse wasn’t disturbing enough. I couldn’t decide at the time if they had been thrown in as an attempt at a humourous break or to try to be shocking, mostly I was despairing at the fact that this far through the book there had been exactly no story development. Lots of non-consensual sex and prostitution but no story beyond Annette’s father leaving in the first few pages.
Finally, at about 20% in, Annette meets Rhoda and it feels like this might be that start of a story because it wasn’t just about Annette eating stolen food and getting raped.
As it was, it was just adding in an extra bit of nothing in between the rape scenes. Another unlikable character with a weird food fetish – this time she likes to watch other people eat rather than eat herself.
Rhoda did introduce the first almost interesting part of the story when she recounted the story of her older brother being shot by the police for a crime he didn’t commit. But aside from the two paragraphs of her story, that bit was disappointing too because Annette’s response was such a non-response that the story filtered away into nothingness. Much like everything else.
And so the story continues, then Rhoda murders Mr Boatwright and Annette becomes a prostitute and then moves away from home and gets a factory job and gets fatter and the rape and sex gets replaced by a co-worker suffering from domestic violence instead.
Oh, and there’s some guy she dates for THREE YEARS who then marries someone else (with whom he has a one year old child) and she has no idea about it. Literally no idea. She rings his mother when he doesn’t turn up for dinner and his mother says, ‘Oh, he got married today.’ And Annette replies, ‘Oh, I must have forgotten it was today.’ Then the guy turns up for dinner the next week and she tells him to go away and he does.
That’s it. You could remove the whole love affair and nothing would change. Annette didn’t change during or after the relationship, it was literally pointless.
Then she moves back home. And finds out that Rhoda has actually murdered three other people (which you worked out ages ago from the VERY OBVIOUS dumps of information siphoned in at random points) and decides that she doesn’t want to be Rhoda’s friend anymore and tells her to go away. Rhoda goes away and changes her phone number and Rhoda’s parents move away and then their house burns down and then Annette doesn’t have to think about it any more. (Note, they are 28 by this point and no different to how they were at the start of the book.)
So yes, this book contains rape, murder, love affairs and necrophilia and yet ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS and no character develops despite all of these events. It’s so frustrating and boring. Mostly boring.
All the characters were pretty horrible, the writing was mediocre, there wasn’t a story and I fell asleep trying to read it more than once.
In the hands of somebody else, and told from a different character’s perspective, God Don’t Like Ugly could have been a massively powerful book. As it is, it is just awful.
I could probably write another 1,000 words about how terrible all of the characters were and how many plot holes there were but you’re probably already bored of me ranting and quite frankly I have already put more effort into this book than it deserves.
I grudgingly give it 1/5* because it was written in readable English. If you are after a meaningful book about 1960s America and segregation and life in the Black community of the time… read Maya Angelou. Not this.