Book Review: Cape May by Chip Cheek

Book Review: Cape May by Chip Cheek

book review cape may by chip cheek from griffin books penarth

People say it's unwise to judge a book by its cover, but in this instance, I’m very glad I did. The chosen artwork for the cover of Cape May, debut novel from author Chip Cheek, quickly piqued my attention as I delved into the shelf of pre-release books at Griffin Books (a wonderful little independent book shop in Penarth). Bold art deco font, a lone martini glass set against a clash of pink and red; a mix of the modern and the classic. It struck me as a little bit of a tease, which perfectly mirrors the kind of novel I found here when I started reading.

The year is September 1957. We meet Henry and Effie, newlyweds who have just arrived in the  deserted seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, eager to spend a quiet, low key honeymoon getting to know each other. Our protagonists are naive and inexperienced, having never lived together or spent more than a few hours with just each other for company. The social politics of the 1950s are explored in depth as the narrative continues with the young couple stumbling across Clara and Max, wealthy socialites who take them under their wing and introduce them to their wild, glamorous lifestyle. Think Great Gatsby vibes, but more raw and gritty, with a lot more (borderline gratuitous) sex.

I'm going to keep things vague when it comes to the storyline. I will just say that I found it rather remarkable and it has stayed with me, where most books these days don't. Every now and again I am reminded of something that happened in this book and I'll wince or feel unsettled. This novel is incredibly human and real, to the point it makes uncomfortable reading at times. You might find yourself relating to parts of it which you aren't very proud of yourself for being able to, or seeing things from another viewpoint that you hadn't considered before. I was expecting a fluffy novel, perhaps with a little bit of a twist, but this is darker and more powerful than you would assume from a first glance - a  gin-infused roller-coaster of hedonism, betrayal and loss of innocence.

book review cape may by chip cheek front cover uk release

Chip Cheek's pacing is particularly brilliant. It begins as an interesting but fairly slow read, beautifully written with a lazy, dreamlike quality to the prose. Persevere with it to find yourself mesmerised by a twisted tale that takes a sharp turn half way through, then bubbles up with so much tension, becoming so provocative and addictive that I was up all night, unable to put it down.

Cheek perfectly encapsulates the inner workings of the mind of a fallible human being when one of the characters begins a downward spiral, making poor decision after poor decision. I enjoyed the exploration of the reasons why people do certain things and how they feel before, during and after, how they rationalise and how they struggle. It really makes you think about the concept of marriage and the reality of committing to another person. There is a lot of sex throughout, and the way in which it's written will be off-putting to some readers. Personally, I think it was fitting with what the author was trying to get across - an authentic account of human sexuality and confusion amidst the waves of sexual repression and revolution flitting around at the time. The final quarter of the book edged on the repulsive, with some startling scenes. I'm not sure how it was possible for something I was reading to be both so very bleak and grotesque, yet tender and heart-breaking at the same time, but that was how I found it. 

Over the course of reading this book, I felt a lot. I felt sad, I felt confused, I felt anxious. This is important to me with any book, as I like to feel emotionally connected, otherwise my attention wanes quite quickly. I found it impressive that Cape May brought on this effect, given that I didn't warm to any of the characters in the book very much. As fully-fleshed out as they were, none were lovable, but it just worked. An evocative read, my favourite I've read in a while. 

back cover of cape may by chip cheek

Cape May is out on 30th April 2019. I was given the chance to review a couple of pre-release titles by Griffin Books, Penarth, in return for a review and my opinion on whether I think they should stock their book when it's out. For me, it's a big yes on this one. Read more about Griffin books here and keep up to date with the events and book signings that regularly take place in store. I took a few photos when I popped in, take a look below.

griffin books in penarth

griffin books in penarth

griffin books in penarth


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