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Highlights in the Charts

Family Meal by Bryan Washington

Reviewed By Arabella Peets

Bryan Washington’s second novel, Family Meal, is a raw and honest book about grief, love and chosen family. This is a story that follows two men who grew up together, fell apart and collide again after a crisis.

Growing up, Cam and TJ were inseparable. When Cam needed a home, TJ’s parents took him in. Fast forward a few years, long after Cam left town. His life is falling apart – the love of his life, Kai, has died, and Kai’s ghost keeps haunting him. Returning to his hometown to escape, he starts slowly destroying himself – taking drugs, not eating and spending too much time on Grindr. He and TJ are finally back in the same place and find themselves drawn together, despite past and current drama between them, fighting their own demons.

The novel is narrated by all three main characters in turn, including Kai from beyond the grave. All of their perspectives fit alongside one another. The prose flows beautifully, with each character having their own distinct way of storytelling that makes it easy to go from one part to the next.

Something I really liked about this book is the space it gives the reader to imagine their own parts of the story and fill in the blanks. Washington never goes into great depth about some people’s backgrounds, like why Cam has a finance degree and used to work in a high-paying finance role but is now undertaking manual labour. We can wonder openly about these things, or we can choose to create our own backgrounds for these characters.

A message I loved within this book is how chosen family can be some of the strongest bonds queer people can have and how people who have known us the longest set our standards for love but can also hurt us the most. The bonds between characters in this story are a great representation of the true relationships queer people experience and shows the world that not everything is as they think.

The book presents a fantastic representation of race, gender, queerness and mental health issues and is one of the best novels I have read with these topics this year. It also covers themes of drug use, eating disorders, sex addiction and parental death, so take this into consideration before you decide to read it.

My Lady Parts by Doon Mackichan

Reviewed by Jenna Tomlinson

If you’ve seen any of Doon Mackichan’s fantastic comedy work, you’ll be familiar with her witty, satirical style and sharp intelligence. Her show Smack the Pony was the first time, other than Victoria Wood, that I’d seen women take the lead in comedy, as well as women’s issues ambling at the forefront of comedy.

Her autobiographical debut My Lady Parts is a brave, no-holds-barred look at her experience in the field of entertainment, from stand-up to actor on stage and screen and show writer, including fighting the stereotypes women face far too often, especially in a world dominated by men.

Boldly, Mackichan introduces her book with a snapshot of all the juicy information and details you won’t find in there. Each of these is more tantalising than the next and it is intriguing to see an author tell their readers that the things they’re probably here for haven’t been included. Even more intriguing is that despite this, Mackichan holds her readers’ attention throughout the pages that follow.

This is undoubtedly due to the formidable courage Mackichan has in sharing her experiences with the reader. It is unsurprising that inequality exists in any workplace, least so in the entertainment industry and particularly in the wake of the #MeToo era. But Mackichan shows true grit and determination in the face of this inequality and to do so is inspiring.

Each chapter is named after a part she’s played or been asked to audition for, the “stupid tart”, for example, with a brief “stage script” style commentary or character note, just as she would receive for a part. It is eye-opening to see the underlying misogyny and stereotyping for these parts laid out bare on the page. And this isn’t all Mackichan opens our eyes to. She is constantly advocating for a change to these roles.

She shares how she attempts to find more to these characters than these brief snippets of stereotyping and empower them. Mackichan raises questions for the reader, such as how our consumption of such roles and characters could change what we are shown. She discusses the power of “voting with your feet”, especially within the entertainment industry. If we are truly against seeing women portrayed in these ways on our screens, then a huge start to changing this is to stop watching shows where women are portrayed this way.

We hear honest tales of her experiences with numerous men in the industry (whom she bravely calls out). She discusses how her time at Manchester University shaped her political beliefs and shares events from her life that have challenged her emotionally and mentally. But throughout it all, she is unwavering in her belief that we need to reflect on and rework our attitudes to fully incorporate any radical change.

I recently saw Mackichan speak at the Manchester Literary Festival and she was as compelling and honest there as she is in the pages of her book. Principled and undaunted by anyone’s view of her, Mackichan is blazing a trail for “Millie Tants” everywhere.



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