Book Review: The Confusion of Karen Carpenter by Jonathan Harvey

The Confusion of Karen Carpenter by Jonathan Harvey
Release Date: 15th August 2013
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Buy: Paperback  Kindle
5 star


This story follows the life of Karen Carpenter…no not the 1970’s pop star Karen Carpenter. This particular Karen Carpenter is a 30-something newly single special needs teacher. After the sudden departure of her Fiancé, Michael, Karen’s Zumba-loving Mother has moved in with her, but these aren’t the only tricky things Karen has to contend with. Such as where has her best friend Wendy got to (and who with?), how to avoid the advances of her lesbian co-worker Meredith and why she finds herself flirting with one of her students parents (who happens to be recently widowed). However all of this seems irrelevant when Karen finally does clap eyes on Michael again…


First things first…I love Jonathan Harvey’s writing. All That She Wants is an amazing story and was one of my favourite novels of 2012, so The Confusion of Karen Carpenter was an automatic buy for me when it hit the shelves. (Whilst I am spreading the love for Jonathan’s books it’s worth mentioning that his latest book,  The Girl Who Just Appeared, was released earlier this month. Get hold of a copy here)

The Confusion of Karen Carpenter completely lived up to its predecessor for me. The first half of the book I found to be funny, light and with elements of typical chick-lit. There were some absolutely hilarious scenes (Karen having her first Brazilian was a classic!) and Jonathan Harvey’s writing is witty and engaging. Karen’s relationship with her mum and fellow teachers at Fountain Woods School is hilarious and the characters are really brought to life. Through clever dialogue and description they’re believable (yet completely bonkers at the same time.) I was working my way through the book thinking ‘oh this is a nice, light-hearted, enjoyable, if a little crazy read’ but as I came across the second half there’s a twist which I wasn’t expecting and suddenly things started to make sense. The book took on a whole different light for me when certain things were revealed and something I wasn’t expecting from a novel that had given so many laughs – it suddenly became a real heart wrenching story.

The characters in this book are all likeable in their own quirky way. I really liked Karen as a central character; she is a hilarious day-dreamer and you discover that she has been through such a lot of heartbreak, and it’s touching how much she cares for Michael. There wasn’t anyone unlikable in this story; the staff at the school were all brilliantly funny and you grow to love Karen’s parents the more you find out about them. Mungo, Fionnula and Meredith are all outrageous yet fantastic characters too.

I love the design of this book. It’s an eye-catching blue with three large sunflowers on the cover. The sunflowers are relevant to the story but it gives it a really vibrant look to the book (and the little bumblebees are very cute too!) This cover is completely up my street.

If you’re looking for a read which is at both ends of a spectrum and will provide many, many laugh-out-loud moments along with sob inducing, heartbreaking moments then this is definitely the book for you!

As for me, well I now have a prior engagement involving The Girl Who Just Appeared…

The copy reviewed was my own personal copy.


Jonathan Harvey comes from Liverpool and is the multi award winning writer of the play and film Beautiful Thing, the Bafta nominated sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful People (Best Comedy: Banff TV Festival). He is currently on the writing teams for both Coronation Street and Shameless. His other TV work includes Rev (Bafta, Best Sitcom), At Home With The Braithwaites, Lilies, The Catherine Tate Show and Murder Most Horrid. He has written 20 stage plays including Corrie!, Canary, Hushabye Mountain, Babies, Boom Bang A Bang and Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club. He also wrote the 2001 stage musical Closer To Heaven with the Pet Shop Boys. His theatre work has won him an Evening Standard Award, two Manchester Evening News Awards, the George Devine Award and the John Whiting Award. But perhaps most telling of all he also won the Spacehopper Championships at Butlins Pwhelli in 1976.

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