This was an interesting read, but I have to address a niggle first. I was slightly daunted by the dissertation at the beginning of the book. Along with a stern quasi-instruction to read first, this was a wopping twenty-two Kindle pages long. I confess I didn’t read all of it, but what I did read expounded on various weighty subjects such as abusive relationships, the effects of social media and whether humans can ever be truly happy as solitary beings. The whole thing read like a professorial essay, which didn’t bode well for the story itself. I do want to be entertained as well as thought-provoked, after all. It’s the way I learn best.
The story itself is startling, having read the somewhat wordy introduction. Told in first person by the unnamed female protagonist, the first scene depicts the girl and her repellant boyfriend, James, who seems to have a highly toxic view of women, calling her best friend a slut, a whore and a dirty slag. It something which comes up throughout the book, how young men are treating women as possessions to be used and abused, with the blame directed squarely at social media. Sex is a weapon, as everything is recorded to be used later to coerce the victim into acts they wouldn’t otherwise engage in.
The girl, her friend and James live in a socially deprived part of London, which also plays a part in their behaviours and expectations. The girl’s mum is alcoholic, and James’s mum seems lovely, which makes her son’s behaviour all the more abhorrent, suggesting home isn’t the problem in his case. The issues of mental health caused by social circumstances is also featured.
If it all sounds bleak, it is. There’s little humour to be had and where there is some, it’s very dark. There is a running theme where the girl isn’t sure if she’s pregnant or not, and is too terrified to take the test she has bought. There is a creeping feeling of hopelessness and the persistent idea that opportunities to better oneself are for privileged people. Her relationship with James is horribly on point, the way he controls her with texts and expectations will be squirm-inducing for some.
The girl talks with eloquence about her future and that of her friends. She is an innocent and knows nothing about sex, even though she’s having it on a regular basis. She is supported by her outrageous best friend, who is her complete opposite in that she doesn’t care what people think of her.
So not a barrel of laughs, but an uncomfortable read which peels back the lid of what is really happening in every street, in every town, every city. The language is raw and ugly but felt authentic. It’s a very English book, with references to English shops and London streets, and very English idiosyncrasies. This would be a great book to feature in book groups, as what it says is important and it says it in a very London way. Just without any of the humour.
Set against the regeneration of East London, ‘Lipgloss’ follows the life of a seventeen-year-old girl in the weeks leading to Christmas 2011.
She is defined by the people in her life – particularly her boyfriend; James. Controlling, possessive, and manipulative, James’ behaviour becomes increasingly desperate and aggressive as she tries to find her own identity into womanhood. She struggles through adversity inflicted by her environment – supported by her vivacious best friend; Nancy. But rising tensions between Nancy and James makes appeasing those closest to her increasingly difficult.
Fraught with anxiety and indecision, constant flashbacks reveal the domineering nature of her recent past. Meanwhile, James’ intentions grow darker, and there seems to be no limit to what he will do to keep her; until circumstances reach a point from which they may never return.
‘Lipgloss’ is a twofold exploration of both the vulnerability of a first relationship, and the impact of social media on mental health.