Hot Key books, the publisher, do this very cool thing, where on the back cover of their books, they give three or four words which summarise what a book is about. It’s an easy way to get a snapshot of what you’re going into when reading the book, and gives a couple of the key themes or plot points.
V for Violet was one of April’s Hot Key blogger books, so I was totally intrigued firstly by the blurb, but then also by the fact that the keywords for this book were murder, sex, swinging sixties, and chips.
Chips? How could chips be the thing they chose to put on the cover? I was hooked. I had to have it. I just had to.
Battersea, 1961. London is just beginning to enter the swinging sixties. The world is changing – but not for sixteen-year-old Violet. She was born at the exact moment Winston Churchill announced Victory in Europe – an auspicious start, but now she’s just stuck in her family’s fish and chip shop dreaming of greatness. And it doesn’t look like fame and fortune are going to come calling anytime soon.
Then she meets Beau. Beau’s a rocker – a motorcycle boy who arrives in an explosion of passion and rebellion. He blows up Violet’s grey little life, and she can’t believe her luck. But things don’t go her way for long.
Joseph, her long-lost brother, comes home. Then young girls start going missing, and turning up murdered. And then Violet’s best friend disappears too. Suddenly life is horrifyingly much more interesting.
Violet can’t believe its coincidence that Joseph turns up just as girls start getting murdered. He’s weird, and she feels sure he’s hiding something. He’s got a secret, and Violet’s got a dreadful feeling it might be the worst kind of secret of all…
I really liked this book. I love books which are set in London, and talk about areas of London that I recognise, because I’m a big sap, and I like being able to think about where things are, and where the characters are going, and connect it in a very real way to the city I live in now. But that’s not the only reason why I loved this book.
I also really liked Violet, the main character. I really enjoyed being inside her head, and seeing her trying to navigate the world of the sixties as she deals with everything thrown at her during the book. It’s funny to think that at age sixteen, Violet was out in the world, looking for a real job, and being a real grownup while I, now, at 26, am still in education. But that’s how it was for a lot of girls then, and V for Violet does a great job of portraying that. It also does a great job of drawing the reader into Violet’s life, and how she feels different to her school friend, how she’s growing up. Plus there’s the whole murderer running around aspect of the book, and Violet’s growing suspicions that it might be someone close to her.
I really enjoyed this book, it was interesting and funny, and at times sweet, and sometimes terrifying. I had only a few problems with it.
Surprisingly, actually, most of those problems are with the blurb.
I think the blurb gives out way too much information. There are two major plot points which are given as big reveals in the book which are just casually thrown out on the blurb like you’re expected to know them going in. Having read the blurb, when going through the book, I was really expecting a bigger deal to be made of both of these things.
Since you can read the blurb above, I may as well mention them.
- Violet’s brother coming home. This is presented as a total shock to Violet in the narrative. She doesn’t see it coming at all. She has no idea who the strange man she sees is. But the reader does. The reader knows, from the blurb, that Violet’s brother is reappearing, and therefore obviously this is him. I really thought that this was a waste of a chance to empathise with Violet and feel her shock at the reveal at the same time as the reader feels their own (although even without the blurb, the narrative was clearly leading there. Still.) The contrast of the narrative, which presents it as a shock and a twist, with the blurb, which presents it as a given, is jarring, and marred that moment in the book for me.
- Similarly the disappearance of Violet’s best friend. This came relatively late in the story – I think maybe halfway through? I knew it was going to happen, though, so I was waiting for it the entire time leading up to it, and thus when Violet realises what has happened, I didn’t have anything to share with her. I wasn’t surprised at this. I wasn’t devastated. I had been forewarned that this would happen. Therefore, it didn’t have the emotional heft that it could’ve if it wasn’t so clearly stated in the blurb. I would also quibble with saying that she disappeared, but that’s by the by.
The other minor (very minor) quibble I had with this book was that Violet can tell when people are lying. I wasn’t really sure if this was just a really good grasp of body language, or a paranormal gift. I’m leaning, definitely, towards body language, as there was nothing else paranormal in the book at all, but it wasn’t really presented that way. It was thrown in near the beginning, and I was surprised that such a gift was mentioned, because I hadn’t been expecting any fantasy elements, and this was the only thing throughout the whole book like that. But later on, it’s presented as simply very good intuition. I found it slightly confusing. But not enough to put me off the book at all.
This review is sounding very negative now, and I don’t mean it to at all. V for Violet was an excellent book – tense, exciting, and mysterious, with all the hallmarks of a young woman finding herself. There were sections of this book which read like a beautiful romance, and sections which read like the grittiest murder mystery, and they blended wonderfully together. I loved Violet. I empathised with her in how she struggled with the transition from school to the next stage of her life. I totally understood her fractured relationship with her sister, and trying to relate to her brother, who is clearly hiding something huge from his long-lost family. I also really, really liked her burgeoning relationship with Beau and how they navigated their blossoming romance.
That’s not to say that Violet was perfect – she’s excellent at getting the wrong end of the stick, and sometimes incredibly frustrating. And thoughtless at times to boot! But that’s part of what makes her a well-rounded and likeable character – she’s by no means perfect, but she seems very real.
On the point of the chips – Violet’s parents run a fish and chip shop, which Violet works in, so the whole book is punctuated by descriptions of nights working there and the salt-and-vinegar tang of a portion of chips. I read this book and craved proper chips incessantly throughout it. I also desperately craved a visit to Brighton. And to ride on the back of a motorcycle again. It’s probably worth noting that being on the back of a motorcycle is something I abjectly hated when I was doing it on a semi-regular basis, so for Alison Rattle to get me to crave it, she’s clearly got some sort of voodoo writing skills going on.
V for Violet was a little like a ride on the back of a motorbike. Exhilarating and windy, it set my heart racing, and made me feel like there was danger around every corner.