Set in the notoriously hot summer of 1976, Pretty Thing centres on fifteen-year-old privileged (but lonely) Becs and her consuming, complicating passion for older, working-class Bracken. After a late-night assault on Becs’s friend and neighbour Mary-Jane, their affair develops in an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. The reader can’t help fearing the worst – is the gorgeous, passionate but rather creepy Bracken all he seems? Is Becs risking more than her O Level results?
I won’t tell you, of course, but Pretty Thing is a compelling narrative that will keep you unsettled and guessing until the end. Mary-Jane’s heart-breaking failure to come to terms with her attack is contrasted subtly with Becs’s increasing involvement with Bracken. Nadel captures perfectly the supreme self-absorption of adolescent relationships.
Today’s teens will, I think, find the seventies world without instant communication as exotic as I, as a child reader, found books set in the fifties – ‘He hadn’t asked how to get hold of me. I might never see him again’ – but of course the book’s concerns with friendships, relationships and coming of age are universal. It’s a complex, richly-detailed story with plenty of plot. Nadel has plenty to say about social class, family and friendship.
I found the characters slightly unmemorable, and the 1970s product-placement occasionally grating, but all in all this was a very enjoyable read. I read it in a sitting, on a long train journey, and found it genuinely engaging and at times moving. And it really did keep me wondering right until the last page.