‘Personal background info. Loud noises make me flinch, and many, many much quieter ones … make me want to punch the wall … Strangers at the door make me nervous. Random conversation in the street makes me suspicious. … Thomas, aforementioned guardian, knows better than anyone how much I hate change in general and surprises in particular. But even Thomas and his imaginary bearskin hat couldn’t hold back the revolutionary tsunami that crashed through the walls of my existence on the day I turned twenty-one. Au contraire, it was Thomas who set it in motion.”


On his twenty-first birthday, Sonny Anderson’s life as he’s knows it changes. One minute he’s eating bacon with his guardian, Thomas, and dog, the Great Dudini, in the fairly average SoCal house they share, the next Sonny is a Trustafarian, with more money than sense, winging his way to London where his beloved Shaun of the Dead’s shot, armed with a list of names, a bunch of letters and a lost childhood to find. So begins Martine McDonagh’s acclaimed Narcissism for Beginners.

Sonny’s not a typical SoCal kid. Kidnapped by his father, Guru Bim, when he’s five, he’s taken from Scotland to Brazil. At the age of 11, he ends up in California with the mysterious Thomas, his only real family, whom most people think is his father. He doesn’t remember his mother at all, or his life before his father took him, and so the journey to the UK is not just a coming of age adventure, but a veritable voyage of discovery, too.

McDonagh’s writing is pared back, almost beautiful in its simplicity, her story, always entertaining and yet at times, heartbreakingly funny and poignant. Told in the first person, Sonny reveals himself a true Brit, an unsentimental character, albeit one with a particular and individual voice. As he travels across the UK – from Torquay to the Lakes and Scotland – meeting the people from his parents’ past, Sonny’s innate sarcasm serves both to amuse and deflect, an armour of words protecting him from his personal truths. The road Sonny travels is not an easy one and the answers he finds often unpalatable.

Narcissism for Beginners will leave you questioning what makes you who you are. It’s an absolute gem of a book.




Narcissism for Beginners | Martine McDonagh | Unbound | 20 September 2018 | paperback | £8.99 | Other editions available

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Acknowledgements: Quoted text p. 3 © Martine McDonagh 2017. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour, organised by Anne Cater (thank you!). Many thanks also to the publisher, Unbound, for supplying a review copy and the jacket image. All thoughts and opinions are our own.


See also:RO Kwon’s The Incendiaries‘; Another one bites the dust: Symon’s Overkill‘; ‘Meet Vanda Symon: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; ‘Meet Gina Kirkham: The Literary Lounge Q&A; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets‘; ‘Chris Whitaker’s mad, mad world – Tall Oaks’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir’; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – indie publisher Orenda does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Mallory an old-style hero – It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell’; ‘Gunnar Staalesen: The Literary Lounge Q&A’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist.’

Film: Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; A Colour Box by Len Lye (1935); Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956). Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956).


This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.



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