Book Review: Strange Girls and Ordinary Women


Strange Girls and Ordinary Women, by Morgan McCarthy, is a mixed bag of a novel. It tells the separate stories of three women whose lives collide, a narrative device that is common enough, yet which in this case frustrated me as I read the book. Moving between the early chapters felt abrupt, an irritation. With two strong and one weaker plot I felt pangs of annoyance each time I had to work my way through the less engaging segments in order to progress with the story.

The chapters given over to Alice, the middle aged housewife, were excellent. The writing flowed effortlessly as the plot drew me in. Her backstory and experiences felt real and I could immerse myself in her history and concerns.

Kaya, the young woman struggling to rise above the life she had been dealt, was an unfolding tale that I thoroughly enjoyed. As the author developed her character I felt that I was getting to know someone, a young woman learning wise lessons from her experiences. I particularly liked her growing interest in philosophy and candid perceptions of the world. Of the three women, she seemed most able to see people for what they were.

The weak link, in my view, was Vic. Compared to the other two strands of the story hers felt two dimensional. There were jarring inconsistencies, such as when this naive and religious misfit masturbated; she was presented as too straight laced, harbouring strong feelings of guilt, for such activities. I pondered the possibility that the author deliberately wrote this socially challenged character in a less empathetic manner, but still found the writing of her backstory shallow.

As the three strands of the story came together the book gained strength, the compelling tales overtaking the staidness of Vic’s earlier contribution. The denouement of all three characters tales was satisfying. I felt that I had got to know the entire cast and their final scenes suited the rounded personalities that had been created.

So much of this book was well written and it is a story that is worth picking up. Perhaps the early chapters given over to Vic were deliberately constructed to match her limited outlook and stilted personal growth. Whatever the reason, if indeed one exists, I felt that this weakened an otherwise engaging and enjoyable read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.