Monsters by Emerald Fennell

A review of the murder mystery crime novel Monsters by Emerald Fennell.

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Monsters is the story of a beach, two children, and a summer full of dead bodies.

The narrator is an unnamed twelve-year-old girl. She is an orphan and spends her summers with her terrified aunt and abusive uncle in their dingy hotel in the seaside town of Fowey. She is funny, observant, malicious, spiteful, irreverent, lonely, and rather too obsessed with true crime. This summer is shaping up to be just like all the others, until a boy called Miles comes to stay at the hotel, and the first dead body washes up on the beach.

The narrator’s voice and character are where this book shines. She is funny and dark, but as the story progresses the reader gets to see beyond the character’s true-crime-and-truancy façade, and we see her as she really doesn’t want to be seen—a lonely, hurt, bruised little girl who has given up on people and stopped hoping. It’s a fascinating portrait, and she drives the story along far more than the actual plot. Her layers and insecurities come out even more strongly once she meets Miles, someone her own age who comes with an overbearing mother. It’s very clear by the end of the first chapter that the narrator could be described as anything from “troubled child” to “burgeoning psychopath,” but Miles is Norman Bates in the making. His mother makes all his own clothes, remaking them each year in exactly the same style but slightly bigger, so he still wears the same outfit he wore ten years ago. His mother insists they sleep in the same room together, spend all their time together, take baths together.

Miles’ mother is paired with the narrator’s Uncle Frederick, who beats his wife and physically abuses the narrator. There are no strong or protective adult figures in the novel, none in either of the children’s lives. It’s an open question whether this neglect has moulded their characters into their psychopathic shapes, or whether it only cemented them. But by the end of the novel it’s clear that there are more monsters in Fowey than two troubled children.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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