The eighties were all about excess, shoulder pads, big hair, Madonna and rich bankers, right? At least, that’s usually the view of the world we get when a film, television programme or book is set in the 1980s.
Not so for Sara Crowe’s Campari for Breakfast, which offers a completely contrasting view of the 1980s. Granted, it’s still not an experience shared by everyone, but it’s refreshing, new (to me at least) and different.
Sue Bowl, 17-year-old romantic and wannabe writer, decamps to her Aunt Coral’s crumbling mansion Green Place for a year. Having lost her mum, Sue wants nothing more than to get away from her dad and his girlfriend Ivana. She’s also keen to launch her budding writing career, and find romance, especially if it’s with the gorgeous Icarus Fry. But it’s Icarus’s brother Joe who carries a torch for Sue, who also has to spend her time dealing with her mortal enemy Loudolle and trying to work out/look after the various lodgers at Green Place, as well as the house itself.
First things first, Campari for Breakfast is an absolute joy to read. Literally. It’s full of humour, with bits that had me laughing out loud. Sue uses a lot of malapropisms, with the result often being hilarious sentences that still somehow seem to fit. As a budding writer, Sue’s diary (one of the ways the story is told, the other being extracts from Aunt Coral’s diary) is pretty good (more on that in a second) but her actual fiction is pretty terrible, but also hugely enjoyable because of that.
Sue’s diary, aside from being funny, is also highly observant. Even though her vocabulary can be a bit dodgy at times, the character of Sue has a knack for seeing people and getting to the bottom of things. Her assessment of characters like Delia, Loudolle and even her Aunt Coral is pretty spot on 99% of the time. In fact, the only characters she misjudges are Icarus and Joe, but she is a teenage girl after all.
Alongside Sue’s story runs the narrative of her Aunt Coral, and of Green Place itself. As the book progresses we learn more about Aunt Coral and about Sue’s mum Buddleia, and there are revelations that will change the whole family’s life, as well as an ever-growing sense of why the family home is so important.
Before I started reading it, I thought Campari for Breakfast was going to be a light-hearted, shallow read. But I was so wrong. Yes, it is a fun read, but it’s also got depth and is heart-warming and quirky and really explores themes of family and friends and love. It’s a novel about who you are, and what makes you. I thoroughly recommend Campari for Breakfast, it’ll leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Transworld. This did not affect my review.