Reviews, Scottish Reads

Scabby Queen

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, taking in the miners’ strikes to Brexit and beyond; hopping between a tiny Scottish island, a Brixton anarchist squat, the bloody Genoa G8 protests, the poll tax riots 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?

I enjoyed this book but it took me a long time to be able to put it into words why. This was a bookclub book and I was so happy that I was able to discuss this book with other people before putting my review into words. Otherwise this review would just be a big brain dump! I gave this book 4 stars as I did enjoy it and I think it was a really well written and complete story. So many of my friends have read and enjoyed this book and it was well received by my bookclub.

This was a very hard book for me to read because it included a lot of tough topics and sadness with very little light. However the book wasn’t a depressing book of sadness! There was a huge variety of tough topics included: loss, neglect, miscarriages, suicide (the book started with Clio taking their own life). Some of the chapters were quite difficult for me to read.

Clio wasn’t a likeable main character and often I can find it difficult to enjoy a book when I don’t like the main character but I think that Clio wasn’t meant to be liked. I found Clio to be selfish and like a whirlwind that flew in and upturned lives without any thought of the people she left behind. It did feel like Clio did have good intentions but went around things in a way that made it seem like she didn’t care what happened, she just wanted what she wanted. However while this could make me hate a character, there were chapters that helped to provide some backstory to Clio which made her more of a tragic character and I felt sympathetic towards her. This book did a great job of showing how people aren’t just good or bad.

I liked reading about the influence that Clio had from their song and how they used this. They could have gone down a certain path but had their goals and passions that they wanted to follow. I liked that Clio continued to use her influence in any way that she could, even after she had passed

The chapters switched between narrative and decades and while this could be confusing, it wasn’t. Everything seemed to flow really well and the chapters felt like they went in some sort of order, just not chronological.

I think the book did a wonderful job of showing how nobody really knew her despite having a huge impact on so many lives. There were a lot of characters whose lives had been impacted by Clio for various reasons yet every character seemed to have known a different Clio.

I really liked Uncle Donald and Xanthe. It was very interesting that the book included a character who had basically decided to have nothing to do with Clio and I thought that their inclusion in the story was important. My heart broke for Sammi who had her life turned upside down and Clio didn’t seem concerned by this as she was so focussed on a specific goal.

This book had so many characters. I was so surprised and impressed that the characters felt so fully formed as there were a lot of them! While there were some characters that I didn’t warm towards, there were no weak character narratives.

I actually wish there were more characters in this book so that I could have gotten to know Clio a bit better but I think that was the point. This book was a bit like an obituary to a person that nobody fully knew.

The storyline with the police officer was so interesting and I would have loved a whole book on the squat. I remember the news story that I think may have inspired this part of the book. If I’m being entirely honest, I think that this book could have been developed into about 6 different books as there were so many different parts that I wanted to know more about.

I think the author did an amazing job to tie so many narratives together and to make the chapters flow regardless of character. I ended up giving this book 4 stars as I did enjoy it and thought it was such a feat of writing. It was raw and full of passion and left me in tears. If you fancy picking this up I’d a. Recommend it and b. Suggest reading something cheery before and afterwards!

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