Missy by Chris Hannan
|Missy by Chris Hannan
|Category: Historical Fiction
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng
|Summary: A rowdy, Wild West journey of discovery for Dol, a sassy, drugged up prostitute heroine.
|Date: July 2009
This begins so well, with just the right sort of first sentence to hook you into a book: I expect you have the consolation of religion, or the guidance of a philosophy, but when me and the girls get frazzled, or blue, or rapturous, or just awfully so-so, we shin out and buy ourselves some hats. So says our heroine of the piece, 19 year old Dol McQueen, who narrates us through her exploits in America's nineteenth century Wild West. She's rough, she's determined, but ultimately she's very damaged: a young, drug addict prostitute who trails hopelessly after her alcoholic mother from country to country.
Her adventure begins on the journey to a new, up and coming mining town when she rescues a man from hanging himself, discovering afterwards that he is a vicious pimp. He later catches up with her and forces her to hide his stolen goods, a case full of opium. Dol, who is herself addicted to Missy, or liquid opium, seizes the chance to try to make some money from the stolen goods, but lands herself in a whole heap of trouble...
Hannan seems to have cleverly captured nineteenth century America, the degrading and violent life of the 'flash girls' in the town saloons, the hardships of going on the wagon trail to travel across the country, and some readers might find this enough of a draw, to experience this life from a different point of view to the usual cowboys and Indians but instead from a woman's perspective, and a prostitute at that. The aspects that I found most interesting in the book however were that of addiction through Dol's own issues with Missy, and her mother's addiction to alcohol, as well as the friendships between the flash girls.
Most of the time they don't even seem to like each other very much, yet they are bound together by their shared lifestyles, and their fears of being alone should they cross the river to become upstanding women and leave prostitution behind. Their lives are hard, brutal, and suicide is common. Ness is Dol's best friend and she gently tries to approach Dol about her drug addiction and the chance that they could make something of themselves together if they tried, but Dol is blind to her advice and blind to the truth of her dependency on Missy.
A quote on the cover describes the story as being hair-raising and so I expected a shocking, thrill a minute action-adventure. However this wasn't really the case. Although there are some tense moments, the story really is a journey of self-discovery, an atmospheric adventure into the drug induced or gonged world of Dol and focuses on her own self-deception, and the fact that for all her bravado and her disapproval of her mother's addiction to alcohol, she herself is ruining her life with the liquid opium - as well as the lives of her friends.
Although there were points I really enjoyed about this book I marked it down for a couple of reasons. Mainly it was because I didn't really like Dol. She is convincingly mouthy and determined and strong and deluded, and she's a very vibrant and memorable character, but she's also incredibly annoying, and after a couple of chapters I already felt exhausted by her and wondered how I'd make it through the whole book. I much preferred her friend, Ness, and felt more sorry for her than I did at any point for Dol who, a lot of the time, I wanted to shake very hard! There are also a few times that Dol comes out with something intellectual that just didn't seem to fit right with her character and jolted me each time it happened. Otherwise this is an interesting read, more of an experience than an escape, but definitely worth a try.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For more about America's Wild West from the Native American point of view try Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
You can read more book reviews or buy Missy by Chris Hannan at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Missy by Chris Hannan at Amazon.com.
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