Three days before her fifty-first birthday, Clio Campbell – one-hit-wonder, political activist, life long-love and one-night-stand – kills herself in her friend Ruth’s spare bedroom. And, as practical as she is, Ruth doesn’t know what to do. Or how to feel. Because knowing and loving Clio Campbell was never straightforward.
To Neil, she was his great unrequited love. He’d known it since their days on picket lines as teenagers. Now she’s a sentence in his email inbox: Remember me well.
The media had loved her as a sexy young starlet, but laughed her off as a ranting spinster as she aged. But with news of her suicide, Clio Campbell is transformed into a posthumous heroine for politically chaotic times.
Stretching over five decades, it takes in the miner’s strikes, Brexit and beyond, hopping between a tiny Scottish island, a Brixton anarchist squat, the bloody Genoa G8 protests and Top of the Pops. Scabby Queen is a portrait of a woman who refuses to compromise, told by her friends and lovers, enemies and fans.
As word spreads of what Clio has done, half a century of memories, of pain and of joy are wrenched to the surface. Those who loved her, those who hated her, and those that felt both ways at once, are forced to ask one question: Who was Clio Campbell?
Many thanks to the good folk at 4th Estate Books for sending me a review copy of Scabby Queen. I haven’t seen much of this book on social media and I am surprised because for me it was an impressive read.
Beginning with Cleo’s death, her story is told through her friends and others who passed through her full and colourful life. Not told chronologically, the reader is given snap shot glimpses of Cleo in relation to another, some positive some less so, but the overall effect is a compelling read portraying the life of Cleo.
The cast is varied with Cleo moving through life and shedding and acquiring friends as she went. Stories are told throughout the book and some of Cleo’s acquaintances we meet several times over the pages. A lively and passionate character committed to a lifelong fight for the underdog, be it the workers, women or the community, Cleo is unique while also being authentic. A number of accounts are shared but the book was surprisingly easy to follow and as the story progressed the accounts became more interlinked in a way that struck me as very clever.
This was an original read and the building up of the character through the lens of others served to illustrate the many facets of her character and in the most part I found myself drawn to and fond of Cleo, despite her dogmatic nature at times. Interspersed with newspaper articles as Cleo drew the spotlight, a taste of fame from a successful hit single gained her notoriety, which she was willing to draw on through her life. The articles, offered another view of events and provided an interesting insight into the reporting of women as they age – something Cleo was profoundly aware of.
I am aware as I write this that it sounds almost as if I am talking about a real person, a measure of what a vivid character Cleo was I think, combined with skilled writing in this original work of fiction. I loved it and as well as recommending it very highly I am curious to know what others who have read this thought.
About the Author
Kirstin Innes is an award-winning writer and journalist living in the west of Scotland. Her first novel Fishnet won the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize in 2015, and is currently in development for television with STV. Her second novel Scabby Queen will be published by 4th Estate in 2020.