Besotted by Joe Treasure

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Besotted by Joe Treasure

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: A novel about a young man growing up in an eccentric family in the early 1980s, and then about him in 2003, and about how the past affects the present.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330511728

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It is late August 1982, the day when O level results come out. Michael Cartwright already knows he has failed his exams and is dreading his parents finding out. He, his twin brother Kieran (who has done very well) and their younger sisters are on the family holiday, staying with their mother's parents in Kilross, County Cork. To escape boredom and his parents' anger, he wanders round the village, where he meets Fergal Noonan, training to be a priest, and lively Peggy O'Connor. He has his first kiss and a bit more with Peggy. The family soon goes home to Cheltenham, but their brief visit to Ireland will have far reaching significance.

Besotted is a coming of age novel and a tale of secrets and how the past shapes the present. The setting of the novel alternates between the early 1980s, to October 2004 and February 2003 (the dates are significant). The back cover suggests that the book is about Michael and Kieran, but actually the story is mainly told from Michael's point of view, with a few long letters from Fergal.

In the 1980s, Michael seeks independence from his family and finally gets away to study art in Brighton, in 1984. Kieran moves into a flatshare with Peggy, now living in London with her boyfriend Dan. Michael nurtures a crush on Kieran's sort-of girlfriend, the mysterious Salema.

In 2003, Michael's niece Trinity, now calling herself Yasmin, turns up on the doorstep of his London home, keen to re-establish contact but with lots of questions about what happened before she was born. She heard her parents arguing – Kieran is convinced he is not her dad so who is? She persuades Michael to come on the Stop the War March opposing the planned invasion of Iraq, despite his misgivings, where they bump into Peggy, and so Michael gets to hear her version of the past too.

Besotted is an interesting novel with a cast of well-drawn and memorable characters, and I liked the way the truth of the past was gradually revealed. I also like reading about the relationships within the family. The family secrets are not so surprising when they are revealed, but that is the point – Michael missed an awful lot of what was really going on in his teens. Treasure wraps the threads of his story up to quite a satisfying conclusion, with some sadness about conversations that never happened and now can never take place. I also liked the way Michael's family drama was framed by real events – the Brighton bombing of the Conservative Party conference in 1984 by the IRA, and the Stop the War march in 2003.

I would like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of this book to The Bookbag.

I have borrowed a copy of Joe Treasure's first novel The Male Gaze from the library and look forward to reading it. Other recent novels partly or wholly set in Ireland are Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and ppTruth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston]]. Another novel reviewed for the Bookbag about teenagers and their parents trying to work out their own identities, and the relationships within a family, is The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno, which is set in Chicago.

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