Book review: The Madonna Of Bolton
Heather Price gets stuck into Matt Cain’s fun, feisty novel
Summer is all about fun, feisty reads, and The Madonna Of Bolton, Matt Cain’s third book, is just that.
I was sold from the start – as a fellow Madonna obsessive, it’s hard not to enjoy a book dedicated to her legacy.
Charlie is a thoroughly northern kid growing up in 1980s Bolton. It’s a decade of flamboyance and self-expressionism, but against a bleak pebble-dashed Bolton, he’s not feeling very inspired. He’s also different from all the other kids at school but can’t quite work out why…
Charlie’s childhood is given an injection of life when his free-spirited aunt gifts him Madonna’s new single Lucky Star for his ninth birthday. And so begins his lifelong love affair with the Queen of Pop.
Each chapter is named after Madonna’s hits, and we see just how relevant they are to Charlie’s experiences of secondary school, university life and finding his way in the weird world of work. Coming out as gay to friends and family (especially to his football-mad father) only adds to the heartache and despair of a young man desperate to fit in with everyone else.
And what about the trials and tribulations of falling in and out of love? Is popularity all it’s cracked up to be? Is fitting in with heteronormativity and traditional masculinity the secret to success? Or, do you take a risk and dare to – gulp – express yourself?
Author Matt Cain spoke of the difficulties he faced in getting his third novel published. It was rejected more than 30 times for being “too gay”, “too working class” and “too niche”. The general belief was that it wouldn’t sit well alongside the likes of Alan Hollinghurst’s novels, and would be difficult to identify a marketable readership.
However, Cain’s Madonna is as much a part of the LGBT literary canon as anything else – because often the most creative and unique literature comes from the perspective of the outsider, and in many forms.
A Cambridge English graduate and established writer and journalist, Cain has spent years working with multiple narrative styles. His work intentionally differs from the likes of Hollinghurst. It appeals to a diverse readership while covering the same important issues – and that’s what matters.
As one of Unbound’s fastest crowd-funded novels, The Madonna Of Bolton has challenged homophobic and classist literary snobbery. It’s definitely causing a commotion, because it’s also set to become a Hollywood film.
Diversity, self-acceptance and the school of life make Cain’s third book another influential narrative for any queer youth or outsider trying to find their way in the world. More importantly, it shows you how to do this without hurting yourself or anyone else.
Charlie is a rebel heart, a protagonist Madonna would be proud of (I mean, he’s followed all her advice). It’s a fun, relatable read, tackling life’s obstacles in a way that’s accessible for all.
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