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This intense, visceral novel provides a Goth’s-eye view of three teenage girls with close affinities to the three early saints whose names they bear. All are admitted to ER at Perpetual Help Hospital on the same evening. Agnes, the youngest at 16, is locked in a mutually destructive relationship with her mother and has slit her wrists. Cecilia, 18, is a Goth-style singer/guitarist at clubs ‘around Brooklyn and the Bowery’ who has nearly drowned in a puddle while in a state of ‘acute intoxication’. Lucy, also 18, works at being an ‘A-list party-girl’, a ‘celebstitute’ with ‘fame as an endgame’ – she has passed out in the gents’ toilet at a fashionable night-spot. While in hospital, the three come into contact with Sebastian, a boy with ‘Byronic good looks and a whiff of tragedy around him’, who also has saintly connections. Through his intervention, the girls draw upon their martyred forebears to become female avengers.
Hurley has written a powerful, though rather distended, piece of modern Gothic, depicting a nightmarish city where those in power are evil and corrupt. The book’s punk roots are evident in both the fragmented, edgy style and the frequent references to blood, tears, sweat and vomit. Performing in a club, Cecilia is ‘the Warrior Queen of her own private Dystopia’, ‘breathing in the stink of her own sweat mixed with splintered floorboard marinated in spilled beer, saliva, smoke and ash’. Lucy, ‘a girl primarily in love with herself’, is followed through her social strivings by Jesse, a contemptible but observant publicist who is like a punk version of the character in the 1957 film, Sweet Smell of Success. Commandeering a taxi, she comments on the rainy weather: ‘Drizzle is such a limp dick’. The taxi-driver prefers to see it as ‘God’s tears’ and, indeed, the drizzle presages an apocalyptic tornado. The girls find themselves taking shelter together in a disused church, where ‘debris and dust from above tumble down like vomit’. Beneath the church, led by the ubiquitous Sebastian, they find a chapel-cum-ossuary complete with chandelier fashioned from human bones and stained-glass windows ‘depicting horrific scenes of torture and death’. At this stage, the novel turns to full-blown Gothic as Cecilia falls into an iron maiden (there as an instrument of mortification) and Lucy trips on to a mirror, leaving shards of glass embedded in her head.
Religious imagery permeates the book, as holy statues are desecrated and appear to bleed and the characters themselves shed tears of blood and bleed from stigmata-like wounds. However, not everything is so violent: as the gentle Agnes awakes, ‘the rising sun… crown(s) her head with a yellow-orange halo of sunshine’, an example of the Pre-Raphaelite imagery which recurs occasionally. Next to these extreme experiences, described in great detail, the villain seems slightly mundane; possibly he will be dealt with as the girls take up their mission in the sequel. Although the world depicted in the text is anything but attractive, there is an element of masochism and an easy acceptance of drug-taking which might influence impressionable readers. The book would, therefore, be more suitable for those able to appreciate the literary context in which it appears.