The Brilliant & Forever by Kevin MacNeil

Rating: ★★★★☆

On a small island three friends – our nameless narrator, Macy and Archie the alpaca – prepare for the annual Brilliant & Forever Festival.  The participants will each read a sample of their own writing, and the overall winner will be presented with a publishing contract.

On our island, everyone – human and alpaca alike – wants to be a writer

The festival is the high point of the calendar, and everyone becomes increasingly tense as the day approaches.  When it does, the 13 contestants prepare to be judged – not only by those who will award the lucrative publishing deal, but also by the people…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Brilliant & Forever – I haven’t read anything by MacNeil previously, but I liked the sound of the novel and so I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review this ahead of its publication in March.  And it did not disappoint!  The Brilliant & Forever is laugh out loud funny, and I got a few strange looks when reading this in public as I struggled to stifle my giggles.

And whilst it is very funny, it is also an incredibly tender novel.  I loved the friendship between the three main characters.  Their situation is far from perfect, and yet in their friendship there’s a sense that they have everything they need.  Archie was my favourite character overall, however, with his little Stetson and his drunken attempts to dance the fandango.  And whilst the festival is important for all three of them, for Archie, winning would mean something bigger.  It could be the start of alpacas being accepted by the wider (human) community; the beginning of equality for his kind.  As I read it, I felt that I could just have easily have been reading about the struggle for any marginalised group to find acceptance in the world.  Thus The Brilliant & Forever tackles some big themes, despite its light-hearted tone and somewhat whimsical nature.

There is some great wordplay throughout the novel – I particularly liked the idea of “haiku-kery”– a style of cooking based upon the principles of the haiku.  And MacNeil is comfortable with writing in different styles – all 13 stories written by the participants in the festival are included in the novel, and each is unique.

And what an ending.  There are a few novels that have left me reeling at the end of them because the conclusion was so unexpected.  I don’t mean in the way that thrillers twist and surprise you – they’re doing what they’re meant to do.  I mean the novels that leave you feeling stunned.  The Brilliant & Forever is one of those novels.

This is a wonderful novel that is clever, amusing and incredibly moving.  I really enjoyed it.

The Brilliant & Forever will be published in March 2016 – many thanks to Vikki Reilly at Polygon for providing a copy for review.

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