Sunday 18 March 2018

Murder, she wrote. Reader, she laughed uproariously

Fiction: The Happy Ever Afterlife of Rosie Potter (RIP), Kate Winter, Little Brown UK, pbk, 304 pages, €17.99

Kate Winter: A wolf in sheep's clothing
Kate Winter: A wolf in sheep's clothing
The Happy Ever After of Rosie Potter RIP

Maggie Armstrong

The big surprise on opening Kate Winter's debut novel was that it wasn't terrible. From its chick-lit packaging of curly book title and butterfly graphics, and the giant Read-It-Yourself font size (honestly, do these publishers think women are infants?) we expect the worst.

The bigger surprise, reading on, was that it was brilliant. A wolf in sheep's clothing.

Kate Winter is a journalist from Sligo. She story-bombs us from the get-go in a brash new voice full of mischief and pathos. It won't spoil anything to say that our heroine wakes up dead at the beginning of the book. Emerging from her body, Rosie Potter's ghost regards herself. "The prone body has a blue-ish tinge to its skin, and there's a large, dark pool of blood spreading right beside its head," reads a horror show opening.

We're dragged straight in by the truly novel device of a deceased person witnessing their own aftermath. The gardaí are called to the scene of what seems to be murder most foul.

Rosie then takes us on a tour of the small, crappy village of Ballycarragh. There is Honeysuckle Cottage, where Rosie lives with her best friend Jenny, both unmarried romantic failures in their 30s. We go to McMorrow's where Rosie works as a bartender and where she met her boyfriend, the smarmy events manager Jack Harper and a key murder suspect.

Ballycarragh is a place of gombeens, like the father-and-son police team out of their depth in the language of foul play ("caddyver" and "aupotsy"). And a place of hypocrites, like the strangers at Rosie's wake getting drunk and complaining that the sandwiches are dry.

We're taken to her family home to meet her whipped father and her new-age mother who isn't that new age - invitations to Rosie's funeral are to be put out "on The Face Book". We meet the boy next door, Charles, and a macabre love story unfolds.

We long for a murder investigation. We do not get one. Winter has peeled back some truths here. The morbid desire we all share to be guests at our own funerals, and our fascination with the crime at the expense of honouring the human being.

"Today has been all about me on the one hand, yet nobody has paid me the slightest heed," Rosie remarks in what must be the victim impact statement to end all victim impact statements.

Added to this ghost's disappointment is the teetering agony of her remembering, every so often, that death is the end. "It really sucks being dead," and "I want my mum" chilled the bones.

We've met the undead before in the movies, memorably Ghost and Beetlejuice. A looney first person narrator can tell us so much more. Walking through a door, she records its disgusting taste and how, "What they absolutely don't mention in the movies is the grossness of that experience. If feels like being sucked in, chewed a few times, then spat out with the force of a Champagne cork."

She is a howl. I laughed more than at Withnail and I, more than at Father Ted, more than at any female comedian. Someone wrote about PG Wodehouse that his books only work because every single line is funny and a similar rule applies here. Each observation is so endearingly bonkers that we forget the flaws of the story - namely, its hijacking by editors of romantic fiction.

Be wary, victims of murder might find this book deeply offensive. Forensic experts might find the attempt at crime writing absurd. There is no sleuth to put your trust in here. The murder mystery is unwoven pretty simply.

As a thriller, it rather reeks. As a romance, it all gets a little PS I Love You. But as something GUBU and uproarious in between, it's great. Hello Kate Winter. Happy ever afterlife.

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