The last book by Magrs I read was the brilliant Exchange, here: http://marcusgipps.livejournal.com/27545.html. I don't know if he's done anything since - he is a very very prolific author - but this sat on my pile for a month or two because I wasn't entirely convinced I wanted to read a book about reality/talent shows. Seeing as I rate him as an author, I shouldn't be put off by a crappy cover, but I just couldn't bring myself to open the book up. In the end I did something that I rarely do with known authors, and read the blurb on the back. Of course, I instantly regretted not having done that earlier. The set-up all seems a bit obvious - sisters constantly trying for TV shows, one talented but ugly, the other beautiful but with "the voice of a warthog" - until the last few words of the back cover.
"Singing Siamese twin sisters".
How can that not be great?
Anyway, the book itself is really rather enjoyable. Magrs has a style of writing that is quite distinctive, and very easy to read. There is a curious mix of surrealism and realism, over-the-top antics and quiet, quite touching moments. The suggestion that the sisters 'team-up' and fake their way onto Diva Wars almost sneaks onto the page, and the actual specifics of the competition aren't examined in much detail at all. Instead the book concerns itself with the consequences of the deception, both on the sisters and on their immediate friends and relations - their occasionally drunken and always strange mother, her new man, his mother and so on. Each of these people is memorable and consistent - even when their behaviour seems out of character, there is always a reason for it, and so everything rings true. Magrs greatest skill is presenting us with realistic, believeable people, caught up in a complex and often unbelievable world.
Sadly, he isn't always as strong on plot. The book ends on what could be called a cliffhanger, although in fairness it is a brilliant one. There are just a few places throughout the book where even a willing suspension of disbelief can't quite overcome the sense of an author with a great idea who has slowly painted himself into a bit of a corner. I don't really mind, to be honest, because the view from the corner is a great one, but anybody looking for watertight plotting and ultra-realistic settings should probably not be bothering with Magrs at all. After all, he wrote a great book called Hands Up about a demonic hand puppet, which was one of the loveliest books about growing up I've read in a long time. He just may not be for everybody, but I think he's worth checking out.
I read this on holiday over Easter, which shows how far behind I am in this blogging malarkey. I read a proof, but the book is published in June in paperback, ISBN: 9781416926702.