Come for the cover, stay for the book: Cleopatra and Frankenstein
Madeleine Rousell reviews...
If, like me, you grew up obsessed with Gossip Girl and New York, Coco Mellors’ debut novel is perfect for you. Think Normal People, but set in New York, and with a much more dysfunctional ‘romance’. I, like many others, picked Cleopatra and Frankenstein up purely for the cover - a beautiful hardback with a striking oil painting of a woman. But, after reading it over a few days and finding it difficult to put down, I loved more than just the cover. It’s definitely the perfect put-down, pick-up book to read this November when you want to escape the weather and chaos of uni.
The story line is easy to follow, and the writing is incredible. There is a strong narrative without any complexity - which is rare among most of the books published in this genre. The novel follows Cleo, a young woman who's over-romanticized and Frank, a struggling artist and middle-aged wealthy businessman who, after knowing each other a few short months, elope in New York.
Both characters perfectly encapsulate the traumas and struggles of people, with Frank suffering from alcoholism and Cleo’s rocky mental health. Whilst reading this, I couldn’t stop comparing the book and its protagonists to Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’. Frank and Cleo’s relationship certainly isn’t as special as Connell and Marianne’s, and you wouldn’t find yourself rooting for them to be together as you would in Rooney’s book, but the way in which Mellor’s perfectly captures the life traumas that so many of us go through is certainly reminiscent of Rooney.
Whilst mental health is certainly widely talked about in the media, and continues to be more and more every day, death of a loved one and the effects of the intense grief which can follow are only somewhat normalised. Most people I know have gone through a loss of some sort, and because it does, inevitably, happen to everyone eventually, it is understandably a normal and accepted part of human life. Mellors intricately explores this through Cleo, and analyses the effects that it has had on her life, and on her relationship with her father, which only deepens her understanding and assessment of people.
As I said before, it’s by no means a challenging read, the chapters flow and there’s an airy feeling to it, with Mellors herself saying that editors thought it needed more “structure”, but as a reader, I find that one of the most enjoyable parts about reading it. It adds to the feeling of relatability, and mirrors both the way that Cleo seems to just be floating through life and also the hollowness of Frank and Cleo’s relationship.
If you love Normal People, the classic romanticised, loving, artist character, and books that feel so completely real and human, Coco Mellors’ debut is for you. It’s a perfect autumn read for this month!
Words: Madeleine Rousell
Image credit: Bloomsbury Publishing