A May-December romance rapidly hits turbulence in early-aughts Manhattan.
Mellors’ remarkably assured and sensitive debut opens with a meet-cute that’s as charming and frothy as it is misleading. On New Year’s Eve 2006, Cleo, a 24-year-old budding British artist, shares an elevator with Frank, a 40-something ad exec. Easy banter leads to flirtation, and flirtation speeds to romance; within six months, they’re married. Figuring out whether that decision has to do with true love, keeping Cleo in the country, or satisfying other suppressed needs is just one of the storm clouds that soon blow in. Quentin, Cleo’s closest friend, is consumed by a jealousy he sublimates into drugs and sex. Cleo’s art ambitions go sideways. Frank’s drinking regresses into alcoholism. His fashion-student sister, Zoe, grows reckless, needy, and similarly addictive. Eleanor, a young copywriter at Frank’s firm, is a perceived threat. Affairs are considered and/or consummated. The novel’s somber stretches, wide cast of characters, and cross sections of New York social spheres strongly evoke Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, but Mellors also cultivates a sprightlier style that keeps the novel’s familiar tropes from feeling clichéd or reducing her characters to types. (Think of Armistead Maupin or Laurie Colwin in a moodier register.) She’s playful with characterization and voice; Eleanor’s sections are distinctively written in the first-person, with a young writer’s pitch-perfect brashness and anxiety. And she describes parties, workplaces, apartments, and familial dynamics with impressive sophistication. She has a knack for crisp, witty summaries, as in her description of a seedy underground gay club that Quentin haunts: “They’d striven for Grecian fantasy and ended up with Greek restaurant.” But the humor doesn’t overwhelm the melancholy heart of the story: At its core, it’s a novel about how love and lovers are easily misinterpreted and how romantic troubles affect friends and family.
A canny and engrossing rewiring of the big-city romance.
Tantalizing … cinematic … [Mellors] has written some extraordinary sentences and shows a great talent for dialogue.” —Los Angeles Times
“An irresistible, un-put-downable, page-turner of a novel. A love letter to New York, a love letter to love, Cleopatra and Frankenstein is a complex, funny, deeply-felt, beautifully written debut.” —Nathan Englander, author of WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK and KADDISH.COM
“Shimmers with wit and wisdom... Mellors' brilliantly crafted story and unforgettable characters offer unvarnished insight into the very heart of what it means to be human. I will be pressing this book into all my friends' hands.” —Christie Tate, New York Times bestselling author of GROUP
“Deeply engrossing and easily lovable, perfect for fans of Sally Rooney and Lauren Groff.” —Booklist
“Cleo is a 24-year-old painter with an expiring student visa; Frank is 20 years older and financially stable (and then some). Their “impulsive marriage” sets off all sorts of reactions in their circle of friends and family-not to mention their individual reactions as they settle in as husband and wife. It's giving me early-season Girls vibes, which I'm very much here for.” —LitHub's Most Anticipated Books of 2022
“Mellors' remarkably assured and sensitive debut … strongly evoke[s] Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, but Mellors also cultivates a sprightlier style that keeps the novel's familiar tropes from feeling clichéd or reducing her characters to types … At its core, it's a novel about how love and lovers are easily misinterpreted and how romantic troubles affect friends and family. A canny and engrossing rewiring of the big-city romance.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“Mellors dissects the tumultuous relationship between two magnetic and damaged people … an enticing aura glows at this work's heart.” —Publishers Weekly
“Ripples from one couple's tumultuous relationship spread widely in Coco Mellors's engaging debut novel … creating a nuanced, deeply emotional journey for her cast. Mellors's prose is a compelling balance of beautiful phrasing and snappy dialogue that propels the story while allowing time for reflection … it's the fullness of their humanity that makes Cleopatra and Frankenstein a worthwhile read. The beauty lies in the broken bits, and Mellors captures both.” —Shelf Awareness
“These New Yorkers are displayed in all their humanity, and spending time among their brightness, laughter and tears is delightful. Mellors is a sparkling, intelligent talent.” —Spectator World
“Cleopatra and Frankenstein, the luminous debut novel from Coco Mellors, is a book about many things: It's a great, swooning love story; a shattering depiction of how addiction and mental illness warp our lives; and a perceptive, witty portrait of globalized New York. But most of all, Mellors has written a devastatingly human book, at turns sharp and tender, that marks her as the rare writer whose sentences are as beautiful as they are wise. An unforgettable read.” —Sam Lansky, author of THE GILDED RAZOR and BROKEN PEOPLE
“I was in the thrall of this ambitious, surprising novel from the very first page. With razor-sharp dialogue, a keen eye for detail, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Cleopatra and Frankenstein untangles the mess of hope and heartache that love too often leaves in its wake. It's an astounding debut by a wise, assured writer. I can't wait to see what Coco Mellors conjures up next.” —Grant Ginder, author of THE PEOPLE WE HATE AT THE WEDDING
“Coco Mellors writes about today's Bright Young Things as they stumble through marriages, affairs, artistic quandaries and addictive temptations. She is a strong writer of wit and sophistication who creates with assurance a jangling world where friendships both matter and falter, and where how to love remains the deepest preoccupation of all.” —Susan Minot, author of Monkeys, Evenings, Thirty Girls and Why I Don't Write
“A character driven epic thoroughly engrossing and entirely magnificent. It is thrilling to read a book that articles with nuance and compassion the way gender impacts every part of our lives. Sometimes you can just tell that a debut novel has been percolating and perfecting inside an author's mind until it is ready to leap into-and ultimately change-the world.” —Adam Eli, author of THE NEW QUEER CONSCIENCE
“A heart-stopping, page-turning, romantic saga rendered with uncommon depth and nuance. Mellors has created a couple that feels achingly real; the passionate fire that fuels their marriage is the same blaze that threatens to burn it to the ground. But the book smartly expands its lens beyond just husband and wife, and examines how one relationship can have a global impact on an entire network of loved ones. Cleopatra and Frankenstein will ensnare you with its irresistible wit, surprise you with its powerful insight, and enthrall you with its kaleidoscopic portrait of one great love affair.” —Jonathan Parks-Ramage, author of YES, DADDY