It takes a few pages to get in there but once you have entered the world of Fabulous, you are unlikely to leave until you’re done. Lucy Hughes-Hallett is best known for her cultural histories and biographies, including that of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Pike (TLS, March 8, 2013); recently she published her debut novel, Peculiar Ground (TLS, June 9, 2017). The stories in this debut collection are based on ancient myth, the Gospels and medieval folklore, but they play out in various London boroughs, a small town with a library and a war memorial, a seaside resort with “a café that used to be a dance hall”, and a Suffolk shore. Throughout, there is a magnetic quality to the writing, and a compelling uncertainty of purpose.
Fabulous – as in “fantastical” rather than “Fabulous, Darling!” presumably – comprises eight retellings of Graeco-Roman myths, Bible stories and fairytales, set in a contemporary Britain of flashy estate agents, economic migrants and camp antiques dealers. The publishers compare it to Angela Carter’s 1979 book, The Bloody Chamber, a subversive reworking of European folk tales that combined postmodern self-awareness with an otherworldly darkness. But Fabulous is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read. And not in a fabulous way either.