No 460 Mostly Hero by Anna Burns #NovNov

Calling Mostly Hero a novella might be pushing my luck slightly. A long short story maybe? No matter how you categorise it though, Mostly Hero is an amusing and unexpected romp through the world of superheroes as depicted by the unique voice of Booker Prize-winner Anna Burns.

Published as an e-book before the publication (and subsequent world domination) of Milkman, Mostly Hero is a spoof on the world of big-budget superhero movies, which subverts the tropes and clichés of that genre to witty effect.

Hero is, unsurprisingly, a superhero. He comes from a long line of them and has never done anything else but save the world from a variety of supervillains. Femme is his lover, who has been put under a spell to kill Hero by the downtown eastside gang. Femme’s Great Aunt, who masquerades as a doddery old lady spending her days crying at old movies, is in fact Hero’s arch enemy and a master villain. She wants to kill Hero and take over the world, but doesn’t want to hurt her niece. Meanwhile, Femme’s cousin, the wonderfully named Freddie Ditchlingtonne’ly, is planning to kill Great Aunt at the behest of his lover Monique Frostique, who is refusing to marry him until Great Aunt is dead.

Can Great Aunt keep her true identity as an evil mastermind hidden from her family and escape death at the hands of her nephew? Can Femme free herself from the spell to kill the man she loves? And can Hero work out if he is really a good guy, or if a secret in his past suggests otherwise?

Mostly Hero is a sardonic, witty and very readable short book that subverts the superhero genre. Like Milkman, the main protagonists are named for their relation to the story and the book features her trademark inventive use of language that combines the deadpan with the outlandish.

After she was shot, she staggered about the room in quite the required fashion, knocking things off shelves, everything off tables, flinging arms, splattering blood. This proceeded for two full minutes, with aunt clutching everyday items as if realising these were treasures dearer to her than anything, before dropping them and staggering with equal intensity to another piece of bric-a-brac somewhere else. Yes, a good two minutes, which shows that just because the last death must occur, doesn’t mean it can’t be a long, drawn-out Shakespearean one.

A TV news network is called ‘Alarming Breaking News network Exclamation Marks!!!!!!Channel‘, while a heavy in Freddie’s gang goes by the bizarre moniker of Boris the Super Grand Total. Clearly Burns is having a great time here and she carries the surreal aspects of her tale lightly and with panache.

Reissued by Faber in 2019

At its heart though, Mostly Hero is a story about vulnerability and about accepting intimacy with another person in order to fully understand yourself. As important as trying to stop Femme throwing him off a cliff is Hero’s acceptance of himself as flawed and his need to confound the expectations that have been thrust upon him by his family. It is actually quite a timeless parable, but told in a wonderfully wacky fashion.

Just people making effort to work out how to be with each other, especially when one of them was being a person in a way the other person had decided was wrong.

Mostly Hero definitely won’t be for everyone and I would say that if you didn’t enjoy Milkman, this might be one to skip, but this is a perfectly crafted tale, creating a surreal and brilliant world to tell a bold and playful story.


Northern Exposure Novellas in November The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

20 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I hope you don’t mind me asking this, but your intro has me wondering about how other readers judge what’s a novella and what’s not. As I understand it, a novella is somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words, but hey, we are hardly going to count them, are we?
    My rough rule of thumb is between 100 and 200 pages, but of course book sizes vary. I know that some of mine at about 150 pages are novellas, because they’ve won our annual Viva La Novella competition or been marketed that way, and sometimes I can tell by how long it takes to read them, but what do other readers do?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It really is wonderfully wacky!! i read this novella this year too and loved it 👌 anna burns has quickly become one of my favourite authors. i love that mostly hero, like her other stories, often start out really ironic and deadpan but then actually develop into something quite meaningful and profound. glad you enjoyed this one too!! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just finished it half an hour ago and i would say I did like it quite a bit. In the beginning, I was quite confused but over time I got the hang of it. But it definitely was a good book. I loved the fact that there was a nice message hidden behind the whole story yk? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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