Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow

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Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow

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Category: Humour
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Amelia sees visions and is pregnant with the next Messiah, but, compared to the rest of her family, she’s normal. A dark, poignant comedy that will leave you breathless.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 420 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Pewter Rose Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0956005397

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Amelia is 13 years old and lives with her mother, brother and extended family in 1980s Liverpool. Con, her great-uncle, is a psychiatrist with prestigious patients and a bit of a drink problem, Great-Aunt Edith is a devout Catholic with an inclination towards eccentricity and her brother, Julian, is a junky. Amelia's mother tries to hold everyone together but becomes slightly distracted when she inherits a convent in Ireland, complete with nuns. Amelia has her own problems, though. She sees visions of the Goddess Irena and is pregnant with the next Messiah. (A girl this time as the original male Messiah didn't have much luck.)

Where should I start? Very occasionally books come along ensuring that a five-star ranking system just isn't enough. Like proverbial buses, I've been blessed to read two in a week. The first was Hinterland by Caroline Brothers and my second 6-out-of-5 book is this one.

I came to Amelia and the Virgin anticipating something in the vein of the rich tapestry of Liverpudlian tragic-comedy that has gone before, but not expecting anything half as superb. As far as I'm concerned, this book puts Nicky Harlow up on the top tier along with Willy Russell. Ok, having gushed, I shall now calm down and explain myself.

Amelia and the Virgin is firstly a master class in writing an ensemble novel. There are a number of characters (including a house full of nuns at one stage) but each has their individual defined persona and the reader is never in doubt as to who they are or where they fit in. Where fitting in is concerned, each is almost like a stone in an arch in that they all have their purpose and if any were taken away, the book as a whole wouldn't be as rich. This book rolls along at a ripping pace and, in many authors' hands, would descend into chaos. However, Nicky Harlow orchestrates and finely tunes everyone's entrances and exits so that the reader may end up breathless, but not suffering from feelings of plot-deficiency or confusion.

Now the humour... This is actually a very dark, poignant book. Each character is chasing something to fill an emptiness. For instance, for Amelia it's the Goddess, Julian worships his drugs and Con has to choose between love for his family and his need for money. Even Marguerite, Amelia's mother, seeks something elsewhere that was missing at home. Yet the darkness and cynicism is clothed in a comedic sugar coating that makes it compelling. I won't recount any of the jokes as they need to be read in context, but Amelia's gran's deathbed scene is a classic. As for the description of the priest's popularity, it's only one sentence but I found myself smirking. Then the realisation hit me as to what the text was hinting... so I re-read it just to make sure I had understood... and then smirked again.

Amongst Nicky Harlow's jobs is creative writing tutor for Open University. Well, if those who can indeed do, whilst those who can't end up teaching, she is definitely the exception that proves the rule. I just hope, rather selfishly, that they don't make this into a film as the spoken word will miss so many nuances from the page... unless they allow Ms Harlow to write the screenplay, that is.

I would like to thank Pewter Rose Press for supplying a copy of this book for review.

If this has given you a taste for cynical satire clothed in humour, try Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

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Buy Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow at


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