Lochwinnoch-based Kirstin Innes has exceeded the anticipation surrounding her new novel, Scabby Queen, after winning Not the Booker Prize with Fishnet in 2015. Five years later, she has delivered a better novel than her protagonist, Clio Campbell, does an album in this tome.
Clio, musician, political activist, feminist, takes her life not long before her 51st birthday in her friend Ruth’s spare bedroom, and the 400 pages of Innes’ writing reflects on the five decades of Campbell’s life through the eyes of many that feel affected by her, positively or negatively.
With a narrative structure similar to Daisy Jones and the Six, whereby the narrator changes with each chapter to add to our understanding of Clio, we are also given plenty to get an understanding of those around her, the vibes she emits, the magnetic force of her personality and narcissistic traits. Thematically it keeps us on our toes, delving into politics, feminism, underground police rape, the hedonistic music industry, and the context, the background to Clio’s life is dense and complex, and makes for wonderful reading.
The development of characters is thorough, with Sammi, Shiv and Xanthe being saviours in the novel, exposing the negative effects or hypocritical sides to Clio Campbell, rendering not simply as that musician with the one hit poll tax number. These characters alone we grow attached to, and keen to see how they progress throughout the novel, although jumping back and forth in time, with each of the names imperative to this story. Sammi, in particular, has a strong voice throughout Scabby Queen, as she struggles to accept and then let go of her past when living with fellow activists Spider and Fran.
With a desire to learn more about this beguiling extrovert, it’s impossible to set this book aside. Like many in the novel, we crave more from Clio Campbell than she is willing to offer, and Innes’ inclusion of times of uprising, the G8 protests in Genoa, the poll tax riots and Brexit makes it riveting reading. Fierce and thorough, with many rich and complex characters, Scabby Queen is a timely contemporary read.
Scabby Queen is available in July, published by 4th Estate.