If you want something dark and funny, look no further, reader! Old & Ugly by C.L. Moir is a fast-paced story that takes place over one night with a cast of characters who will make you laugh and scowl at the same time.
C.L. Moir’s novel is the story of a reunion. The reunion takes place forty years after the events that have shaped and deformed the small cast of characters to whom the reader is gradually introduced. The main stage is, of course, taken by our protagonist and narrator Ange – once crowned The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, the forty-years-later Ange has been eating her feelings for decades and now she has no semblance to her past Beauty Queen self. From the very first pages, the reader can sense that there is a sinister undercurrent to the reunion. Ange’s reluctance to go and her nervous tics only highlight the notion that there is a bigger story behind the innocent-looking invitation. In the course of events during this fateful reunion, we quickly get introduced to Elizabeth, Ange’s rival/best friend from the past, the three school friends who went and abused Ange and Elizabeth during an important beauty contest, Spencer the man whose shadow overcasts the whole evening, and Henry who is way too young for the thoughts and feelings he hides within himself.
Old & Ugly is a page-turner; the events just keep rolling and with them the past is slowly revealed. The relationships, on the surface, seem superficial and built on old bitterness and mean remarks. However, underneath it all, there is a twisted kind of love and friendship between the five women and the young boy. There is also a common enemy – Spencer, Elisabeth’s husband. The past is always present throughout the reunion embodied in the character of Spencer. Behind the snide comments and fake laughter, there is a constant tension that intensifies when Ange is left alone or only in the company of Henry, Spencer’s and Elizabeth’s son. Henry’s character was refreshing, and he was the biggest surprise out of them all. Funny and sharp, he easily evokes empathy but also astonishment and confusion from the reader. This is one of the many great things about C.L. Moir’s writing – the ability to show the many facets of a characters, the complexity of their relationships and making it seem effortless.
The themes discussed in the novel are many, and they are all important. Ange is the embodiment of beauty and the importance we attach to it. As a former Beauty Queen, we now see through her that beauty can be fleeting, but that doesn’t mean that glamour is gone. Ange’s character was absolutely brilliant, and she showed that beauty indeed is in the eye of the beholder. Her style, her obsessions with beautiful things, her confidence and pizzazz only go to show that we, as a society, have twisted views regarding beauty, weight, and appearances. Ange, alongside Elizabeth and Henry, also reveals to us the lasting damage that emotional/physical trauma can do to a person. Her compulsive eating is a way of coping with the trauma from forty years ago. Ange’s tics, Elizabeth’s covert hatred towards Spencer, and Henry’s homicidal tendencies are all present throughout the story, covered up with jokes and cynicism, and they all show the different responses to trauma. As the traumatic events from the past are slowly revealed, we also realise that these five women, underneath all the meanness and pettiness, are actually fond of each other, albeit in a twisted way. Once they face a common enemy, they all stand together united. Friendship, especially a lifetime one, comes in many forms. The ones portrayed in Old & Ugly do not seem like the real deal we have come to expect, but the ending completely turns around our preconceived notions about these women and their relationships with each other. The friendship that quickly blooms between Ange and Henry was just as important and apart from providing comic relief, it also goes to show that life is strange but there is always out there who is willing to help and lend a friendly hand.
To sum up, Old & Ugly by C.L. Moir was a delightful surprise! It has so many layers, a great cast of characters and a quick-paced story that will keep you up at night. It discusses difficult topics, but it does so with humour and glamour, so I do encourage you all to get yourself a copy and enjoy this brilliant story.
Old & Ugly is out now, published by Behind the Hat Press