In his iconic mystery novels, Raymond Chandler would often place his hardboiled private detective protagonist Phillip Marlowe in some shadowy LA bar where he’d sit and sip a gimlet, a green cocktail, and watch a suspicious hood with a secret or meet up with a duplicitous blonde who he’d verbally spar with and maybe shake loose a detail that will knock the whole damn case into line.
In her debut novel Crap Holiday, Jenny Morrill places her scrambled protagonist Melissa in a collapsing tent, drinking ouzo from a Daniel O’Donnell mug and hiding from a spaced out div who won’t stop playing the lute.
If you’re a Den of Geek regular, you might know author Jenny Morrill as the writer of Rainbow articles that are full of Bungle jokes and maniacism. Her novel is similarly unhinged and hilarious.
Scraping out of work at the Co-op by relaying the sad news of imaginary Uncle Jeff’s illness, Melissa takes her first ever camping trip with housemate Joanne (Joanne having booked it without telling her because she’s made plans to meet up with a self-proclaimed karate expert called Fax and doesn’t want it to look like she has no mates). Surrounded on all sides by people who are really into crystals, vibes and wanting her to join in, things look dire. But thanks to large amounts of booze, Freddos and negativity, Melissa may just make it through the weekend.
Crap Holiday is laugh out loud funny. It’s not a great book to read on a bus or in a coffee shop, unless you’re ok with looking like a cackling idiot.
The book works entirely because it’s so much fun to spend time with Melissa. Melissa is great because she spends all her time negotiating genuine problems and petulantly pursuing solutions that make them all considerably worse. She narrates us through her catastrophic decision-making process with a vocabulary that’s been curated for juvenile swearing and spite.
Melissa has a skewed and sharp take on just about everything. That’s what makes her a fun character; you could drop her into any situation and there will be laughs in the material. She can be mean but is always likeable enough that you want to spend time with her. Her earnest moments are few and far between, but they are there, usually shared with her trusty sidekick (a Daniel O’Donnell mug).
There’s no shortage of fun stuff for her to react to in Crap Holiday. Whether she’s facing down Co-op customers, suffering through Slimming World meetings or attempting to keep the lid on the world’s most disappointing house party, she’s presented with a conveyor belt of infuriating misfits and offensive idiots. And when you figure in hangovers and a missing Skeletor action figure, you should probably brace yourselves for a fair bit of swearing.
While it takes more of its drive from its lead character than its narrative, the construction of the story feels well balanced. It zips along with short chapters and pacey prose, wringing each set-up for laughs before chucking it to one side and getting stuck right into the next one.
There’s a sense of impending incident in there too, and with it comes a nagging worry that the incident would have to be something that either breaks the sense of reality or shifts the tone dramatically. The way things are going two thirds in, it’s very hard to imagine how this novel is going to stop being silly long enough to give the character her arc or produce something that will give the ending a sense of climax. But what follows is brilliant, authentic and in the spirit of the stuff preceding it. There’s no cheat to it at all.
The novel ends up being a sort of ode to directionless smartarses who find as they get older that the floor isn’t so firmly beneath their feet anymore, but who still have the presence of mind to tell the ground it’s a dickhead as they stumble along.
Crap Holiday is relentlessly funny. An irreverent riot from start to finish, it comes highly recommended.
Crap Holiday is available now in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.