Friday, 4 October 2013

Dead Romantic by CJ Skuse

Publication date: 4th February 2013

Published by: The Chicken House

Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Dark Humour (YA)

My synopsis:
Camille has just started 6th form college and is having trouble assimilating.  She tries to become one of the cool teens by agreeing to carry out a dare at the fresher’s party that involves eating something disgusting, drinking something disgusting and then diving into a pool of something disgusting.  Under the influence of alcohol, she carries out the dare but rather than respect and admiration from her peers she is mocked and laughed at.  Even her so-called best friends, Lynx and Poppy have deserted her and she has made a fool of herself in front of Damian de Jager, the boy she fancies.  

Angry, upset and covered in cow excrement, she leaves the party and finds herself walking though the local cemetery.  She hears a noise and discovers that it is a girl about her age who appears to be digging.  She approaches her and demands to know what she is doing (mainly out of curiosity).  They strike up a conversation which leads to Camille helping the girl finish what she is doing before they go their separate ways.

Camille has always been fixated with death. When she realises that ‘digging girl’ goes to the same college as her, she finds herself drawn to her, as clearly she too is comfortable around death.  She switches subjects and opts for Human Biology so that they may be in the same class.  She finds out that the girl’s name is Zoe and that she is a young scientist with a penchant for carrying out weird experiments; the kind that can bring dead things back to life (reanimation).  

All Camille wants in life is to be accepted among her peers and have a boyfriend who will love her.  To her dismay, Lynx has started dating Damian and Poppy has been paired off with Splodge, one of Damian’s friends.  They have no time for her anymore and no one seems to be interested in dating her.  She is anxious that she will have no date for the approaching Halloween party so Zoe makes her a proposition.  She tells her she can create the perfect date for her by assembling the body parts of Camille’s ideal guy and using her experimental method to reanimate the assembled corpse.  Naturally, Camille agrees enthusiastically....

My review:
I have very mixed views about Dead Romantic.  For more than the first half I was convinced that I (mostly) did not like it, but then it got to a point where things changed.  It’s like the author got into a zone at a particular point and it read so much better thereafter.  

Here are my main problems with it.

(1) Camille's ‘ditziness’ becomes very annoying indeed.  I appreciate that this is a humorous novel and that her ditzy behaviour is for comedy effect, for example, she confuses words (dramatise instead of traumatise, that kind of thing), has to improvise with her vocabulary (‘that scopy thing’, meaning a stethoscope) and she has a habit of creating her own words by merging two together – like is often done by the media.  She is boy-crazy and spends a lot of time thinking about, talking about or just ogling them.  I think it’s meant to be an amusing take on how some teenagers really are but it gets tiresome.  I think the author would have done well to tone it down a bit.  

(2) I found it very hard to suspend my disbelief with this story because there was so much going that just wasn’t feasible.  I can overlook the question how Camille got into 6th form college in the first place (I am not being a snob; this girl continues to demonstrate the tremendous gaps in her knowledge about most things), but that she is able to switch from Sociology to Human Biology A’ level I don't buy.  Then there is the scene when Zoe brings the dissected hamsters back to life.  Several people witness this and yet no one (apart from Camille) has anything to say about it.  Zoe gets an indefinite suspension but no one looks to investigate what went on or poses the question how concrete-eating hamsters come to be running riot around the school (slowly taking it apart).   I get that it’s supposed to be funny but it makes no sense!  Then there was the putting together of the perfect boyfriend.  I know its fantasy but you can’t just take body parts from random dead people put them together and make a whole person!  Why does Zoe talk about the relevance of blood type and yet organ and tissue matching/rejection has no relevance??
(3) The plot is dodgy in places. Spoiler Alert: For example, the part when Poppy and Splodge go missing; Camille and Louis are concerned for their safety, but only for a bit.  Then as the plot unfolds they are forgotten about and don’t get a mention again until they make an appearance towards the end.  Another example, Zoe explains to Camille that reanimation is so effective you can't even see the joined up parts, thanks to the serum.  However, in order to prove that she has partially been reaminated herself, she undresses to show Camille her scars (??). End of Spoiler Alert.

Here's what I liked about it
(1) I have to give Dead Romantic full marks for originality and, as I said, about 55% in it seemed to improve.  The flaws became less conspicuous, the story came together and I found myself laughing a lot.  Camille becomes torn between the ethics of what she and Zoe are doing and the prospect of gaining a boyfriend so good-looking he could fit in quite comfortably as the 6th member of One Direction (my surmisal not the author's) .  When he is complete and she sees him for the first time she is in awe of his attractiveness.  She does have a problem with one part of his anatomy and she tries to convince Zoe that they should find a replacement – which had me in hysterics.  When CJ Skuse gets the humour right she really gets it right.  The scene in Marks & Spencer is another great example.

(2) Aside from my criticism of Camille and despite them all being caricatures, I was impressed by the portrayal of the teenagers.  The boys behave like real boys in their late teens (as opposed to the almost perfect boys in most YA fantasy fiction).  E.g. Some of the things that come out of Damian's mouth are outrageous - but I have no doubt this is a realistic (if exaggerated) portrayal of guys like Damian.  The same goes for Louis' shy and reserved behaviour which holds him back from doing what he wants to do. I found the realism refreshing. 

(3) As I approached the last few chapters of the novel I found myself hoping for a sequel.  To my delight, this one ended on a cliff-hanger, suggesting that there is more to come. I liked Dead Romantic enough to want to read more by this author and to sign up for the sequel.

I kept thinking that some of the stuff that didn’t work so well as a novel would probably work for the screen, which is why I think someone should really buy the movie rights to this novel.  With some plot tweaking it would make a great teen film of the style of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy by Wright & Pegg (Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End).  

It’s not for everyone but it managed to win me over… eventually.


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