Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran

5th Oct 2010

Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran Vintage Contemporaries Book Cover
Colleen Curran's 2005 debut novel Whores on the Hill is one of those books I acquired by accident. It might have been the cover that captured my attention at a charity shop or jumble sale, a friend might have abandoned it at my house. It was one of those that turned up among my book collection as if by some strange trickery involving magic elves.

But no matter how it got there, I can’t complain. Because despite the backlash against it (of which I was blissfully unaware until writing this review), Whores on the Hill is by turns beautiful, heartbreaking and unsettling; a love letter to the electric euphoria of adolescent rebellion.

It’s told in the first person by Thisbe Newton, a shy new arrival at the last all-girls’ school in Milwaukee, Sacred Heart Holy Angels. She soon becomes best friends with ‘Sacred Heart Sluts‘ Juli and Astrid; “girls in plaid skirts, loud and obnoxious, driving with the windows down. Desperate and dangerous…a million nerve ends electric with appetite and not afraid. ”

With lyrical language and imagery, the book follows the trio through a whirlwind of school, clubs, parties and joyrides, evoking with originality and ease the self-conscious, self destructive restlessness of being “fifteen and knobbly-kneed with only a handful of choices. [When the] world was small and cruel and narrow-minded and breathtaking.”

Although the Sacred Heart Sluts have been accused by overprotective parents of glorifying teenage experiments with booze, amphetamines and casual sex (there are almost hundred reviews on the book’s American Amazon listing, mostly from upset mothers dismissing the novel as inappropriate and in poor taste), Thisbe, Astrid and Juli are by no means exempt from the consequences of their actions.

Their reputation is renowned for miles around, and all three of them resort to ever-more damaging behaviour, such as vandalism and self-harm, as ways of seeking sympathy, attention, and eventually redemption.

Whores on the Hill is not without flaws. The blank, surface description that conveys the trios’ emotions without being explicit is for the most part effective, but at times comes across as brittle and bitter. It limits the readers’ empathy and emotional connection to the characters, so that the soap opera ending falls flat.

That said, the novel’s themes of friendship, loyalty, rebellion, acceptance, and the societal and sexual pressures placed on adolescent women will hit a nerve with anyone who has ever been “young and out for glory.”

Some have compared it to Michelle Kane‘s Confessions of a Catholic Schoolgirl. To me, it’s the American equivalent of Bella Bathurst‘s Special (another one I acquired without knowing when or how, but ended up engrossed in). Want to decide for yourself? Order it from Amazon for £8.09.

Post by Jane Bradley