Reflected and Dissected: Martina Cole’s The Family

In my last post (granted a few weeks ago now), I spoke about authors and their grammar mistakes. I’ve found someone worse than Jodi Picoult – Martina Cole.

I have a pile of books in a box somewhere that I post on, so I technically paid pennies for “The Family” which is apparently “the sensational new novel from the No.1 Bestseller.” Not that it made me swap with the book because of that, but I’d read “The Graft” by Martina Cole when I was a teenager, and I remembered I liked it, so I thought this would probably make me have the same reaction.

I’ve already reviewed this book on Goodreads but I wanted to draw to your attention how exceptionally bad this book is. And well, because I like a good whinge about writing stuff. Also to spare anyone who is thinking of reading Cole’s work to steer away from it unless you want to burn your eyes out with hydrochloric acid.

Okay, the plot. “The Family” is about a gang family called the Murphy’s living somewhere down south (I think it’s Essex but it could be anywhere generic like London to be honest) and most specifically, about one of the sons Phillip Murphy and this “posh” bitch called Christine Booth. They become this couple, doing all sorts of silly relationship stuff like getting married too young and having some brats, and Christine mainly goes with Phillip to piss her mum off, but he stays with Christine because he’s some sort of control freak and really wants to treat her like his property or something.

Christine’s mother doesn’t like that she’s going out with this Murphy lad, but it’s okay because she’s a control freak too and obsessed with status and money, so when Phillip gives them opportunity to expand Christine’s parents’ business (fucking convenience stores, how utterly perfect), Christine’s mum gets on board with the gang-boy-took-my-virginal-daughter shit.

Actually, I expected this book to tell me everything I thought was predictable about the book, and then at the end be like “gotcha! I was really trying to tell you this…” But it didn’t. I read the blurb and thought “this is what the book will be about” and not only was I right, it also told the plot and the characters in such clichéd and unoriginal ways it’s the only book where I’ve skipped 200 pages and STILL known what was going on.

The first thing that got to me was characterization. The main characters, Christine and Phillip are supposed to be well written, and even though the narrative is third-person, the reader should still be getting a sense of who they are through the main characters and not some dumb secondary characters that think stuff like “Philip was angry. Phillip loved Christine.” It’s also not necessary to fully name your characters the entire fucking time. By page 50, I got that when someone mentions Phillip, Cole didn’t need to say “Phillip Murphy was…” and “Christine Booth was angry…” Are there any other Phillip’s or Christine’s you could possibly be referring to?

Then secondary characters, pretty much described as a basic “she was this…that…this.” And minor characters were written terribly too. There’s a scene were one of the Murphy boys is having sex with this random girl. Never been introduced to this character until now, and when the Murphy boy gets into trouble, Cole thinks it’s necessary to go into this girls back story. Like how her relationship with her father is, and what her plans for her future are, and where she’s going to go live now. This character isn’t mentioned at all the rest of the book. She is a character just to show that the secondary character has some other interest other than his family, he fucks her, then she runs off. I don’t need all this other shit. Characters that are just fly-by’s should be treated as such – a character who’s only got one line and one page shouldn’t need a fucking backstory told to the reader – that stuff should be kept in drafts and in the author’s head.

There’s also a bouncer who’s, guess what? Tall, broad, muscly, thick-skinned, hates everyone but loves hurting people. Wow. Cliche number 1569. The thing about minor characters is that just because they aren’t in it that long or don’t have much to say doesn’t mean that you need to make them generic or boring. Your main characters should have something a bit special about them – something that makes them interesting to read, so why would they keep company that isn’t similar?

Cliche’s were a big thing in this book. There are actually too many to mention and without going through each chapter bit by bit I’ll just try to mention the few that stood out for me:

Not everyone who smokes weed listens to Bob Marley.

Not every member of some gang cares deeply for his family and has “rules” to live by.

Not every non-gang member acts like a naïve little brat because she’s “innocent.”

Yes. Two characters were smoking weed (the Murphy guy and the silly back-story girl) and the girl hears the “sweet familiar sounds of a Bob Marley song playing through the window.” Oh, and it’s Redemption Song, so it looks like Cole is saying “hey, look I’m different – I mention a song by Bob Marley that isn’t called ‘Three Birds’.” I don’t know why Cole thinks that that’s what stoners listen to…or that people who listen to Bob Marley must smoke weed.

Seriously it was like reading a retarded written version of The Godfather. The whole “the only people who fuck with my family is me.” One of the Murphy boys gets put in a coma by his sister – who brings some muscle with her to beat up her brother – so I thought “oh, this guy did it” only to realise four chapters later that it was his sister who did it. Really? I’m not being anti-feminist or anything, but considering we don’t get any physical description on her or her brother, it’s still important to explain how anyone can put someone into a coma by just “throwing a few punches.” And it’s even more imperative that the book explains how a woman can beat up a man and not come off with any bruises herself. It’s dumb and it looks controversial, but it really isn’t when it isn’t explained properly.

There are seperated parts in the book so that it skips ahead a few years every so often. I get this is to show the “character development” or what should be called “character’s say same old shit, but in a different year.” I skipped 200 pages between Christine and Phillip’s kids being toddlers to where they were in their teens and I could just see how much time I’d really wasted in this 500+ page book.

The chapters are short but incessant. Characters fill up the pages with their inane thoughts and their hopes that “Phillip wouldn’t get mad.” And the book basically is where there’s a stupid dick who thinks he’s tough and this chick sees him as a good guy, finds out he’s a bit of a cunt, stays with him (so she gets depressed, takes some pills then gets manic-depressive. Yeah, Cole should have done some more research into that I think) has some sprogs, one of them turns out good, the other turns out bad. In the end, they end up killing the bad one, because he tried to kill his brother or some shit and to hide the evidence Phillip puts the body into the incinerator on the farm that they live on.

That’s it. That’s the book. Oh how sad.

Or not. Because Cole describes the characters so generically and in such a piss-poor way that whenever any “action” happened, I felt nothing for the characters. Either that or I have no soul.

I can sort of forgive basic characterisation if the plot is fairly decent, but the book failed to deliver this too. Maybe this would all be forgiven if Cole hadn’t made so many grammar mistakes. And the two I picked as the winners are:

Christine’s parents (Eileen and ___blank generic name – can’t be bothered to look it up) are talking. It’s established from the beginning of the chapter that it is only those two characters in the scene. Eileen says something, which is followed by “Veronica said.” ARGGHGHGHFGHSUD. And not only that, Christine’s dad replies to “Veronica” and says “think about it, Eileen.” You think about it Cole. Veronica/Eileen…Veronica is Phillip’s mother…Eileen is Christine’s mother…Christine’s dad REFERS to her as Eileen….DID YOU NOT THINK TO DOUBLE CHECK WHICH CHARACTER WAS TALKING?!!!!

It makes me so mad! It’s not fucking rocket science. When I’m writing, I have in my head which characters are where and who is talking. So for example, if I’m writing about characters A and B conversing, I don’t even THINK about where character fucking Z is. Z is off somewhere, smoking weed and listening to Bob Marley.

In my version of the book (ugh, no it’s not my book anymore – I donated it to the Dust of Yonder in a box in the attic) – there’s an extract from Cole’s “amazing new novel” (wait a minute, I thought THIS was her new novel? So now she has a new new novel? How novel of her). Where she specifically writes the words “all she was conscious of was a rushing noice in her ears.”

A rushing noice in her ears.

A rushing noice…

A rushing noice…


That’s fucking noice, Cole. It’s noice that you are able to produce shit after terrible shit, call yourself a bestselling author (and presumably publishers think this too seeing as your name appears on books LARGER than the title. You don’t get that honour) and are able to pull shit like this out of your arse and hope your readers don’t realise what an utter abomination of a writer you really are.

Oh, and one last thing…when a man who loves his wife hugs her, he doesn’t usually get a boner. That only happens when the guy wants sex…usually hugs don’t mean “I want sex” it usually means (at least in a marriage and long-term relationship) “I love you” or “I want comforting/to comfort you.” If my boyfriend got a boner when he was hugging me, I’d be asking him what the fuck is wrong with him. It’s not erotica. It’s not thrilling. It’s dumb. Just like this whole fucking book.




One thought on “Reflected and Dissected: Martina Cole’s The Family

  1. Pingback: The Books That Pass From Hand to Hand | The Lefty Writes

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