Emotionally intelligent, life-affirming and darkly comic, Abigail Bergstrom’s debut novel What A Shame had us at hello!
Perfect for fans of Dolly Alderton and Fleabag, Bergstrom fills the pages with awkward humour and heartbreak in equal measure, shining a light on the struggles of grief in all its forms whilst celebrating the power of female friendship.
For anyone who’s ever grappled with shame and self-worth or felt a little lost in life, allow What A Shame to hit you in the feels and bring you home to yourself (cue the book hangover).
Here’s a recap of the blurb before we get into our reviews!
(Trigger warnings: grief, parental death, child abuse, self-harm)
There is something wrong with Mathilda.
She’s still reeling from the blow of a gut-punch break up and grieving the death of a loved one. But that’s not it.
She’s cried all her tears, mastered her crow pose and thrown out every last reminder of him. But that’s not helping.
Concerned that she isn’t moving on, Mathilda’s friends push her towards a series of increasingly unorthodox remedies. Until the seams of herself begin to come undone.
Tender, unflinching and blisteringly funny, What a Shame glitters with rage and heartbreak, perfect for fans of Emma Jane Unsworth, Dolly Alderton and Holly Bourne.
I have been insufferable since finishing this book, harping on about it to anyone who’ll make eye contact with me. Abigail has such a unique writing style, marrying raw unadorned emotion with unexpected lyricism. And as you can probably tell, I’m obsessed.
What A Shame is a book your heart will recognise from the very first page and a daring debut you’ll forever peer pressure your friends to read. It’s light and shade, grief and triumph – all the peak and pits of the human experience. The subject matter is dark and hard to read (particularly when you get to the twist) but Bergstrom handles every trigger with great care and emotional intelligence, leaving plenty of space for the joy of female friendship to punctuate the darkness. What a shame there wasn’t 260 more pages where that came from. Bergstrom is one to watch and I for one can’t wait to read whatever she writes next!
Rating: the easiest 5 stars I’ve ever given
Would you recommend it? Yes! All power to the dungarees.
After reading Breathless last month- a book I couldn’t put down- I found What A Shame a little slow to start with. It’s quite the contrast to books in which you know an impending twist is on the horizon or with a juicy plot right from the off, but despite this, I finished it feeling warm, fuzzy and ready to recommend it to everyone I know. Having gone through a breakup myself in 2020, I finally feel in a good place to read books that cover the subject in all its gritting and heart-wrenching detail, and What A Shame does so with such poise, relatability and understanding- it makes you feel truly seen and heard. One line that has really stuck with me came from one of Mathilda’s friends who said she believed M was stuck in the feeling that the best days of her life had already happened to her, which is something I resonate with so much as someone who truly feels they peaked at age 17. What A Shame gives hope to anyone going through a phase of change and self-development that feels more like drowning, and promises a brighter future no matter what.
Although at times covering heavy themes, following Mathilda’s journey never felt like a drag, and instead like that of a close friend you wanted to wrap up in a hug and never let go. Although it’s a book in which nothing major happens and there are no big twists that rock your world, it concluded in a way that left me feeling satisfied and like I had myself been on a healing journey with Mathilda. I’m also now desperately searching for a time I can complete a banishing bath ritual because I honestly feel it would heal so much. Consider me influenced.
Would you recommend it? Yes!
Having never gone through a heart aching, soul-crushing, world-ending break up myself it didn’t stop me from devouring What a Shame in 3 days flat! I think everyone can relate to that feeling of being completely lost especially throughout your twenties, and the book wrestles with the protagonist trying everything in reach to find herself again and move past the heartbreak and grief she has recently gone through. This book really made sense to me and it was written so wonderfully for the first time in a long time I grabbed a highlighter and started attacking my book pulling out all the sentences packed full of poetic genius, which there were a lot of!
There’s plenty of plot to sink your teeth into with this book despite my going into it thinking it was going to be reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s novels where not a lot happens. I really enjoyed getting to live within the sisterhood Abi created within this book and felt like a fly on the wall of their bonds. The book stretched from self-pity to solitude and every messy thing that comes between. I’d definitely recommend this book albeit with a couple of trigger warnings (self-harm/abuse/loss), especially to friends with a dry sense of humour like myself.
Would you recommend it? Yes to the right person, I won’t be throwing it at my mum
I absolutely adored this book! The pain and sorrow, but joy and love that comes from being a human. How grief and heartbreak can lay so heavy on a person, this book was raw and emotional, even awkward at times, but I truly loved it.
Abigail has such a unique way of writing, with the narration switching between her ex-boyfriend and her deceased father, which made for an interesting read. The book covers many dark themes and difficult scenarios, there are moments I found myself slightly apprehensive about turning the page, but the intrigue was overwhelming and all difficult topics were always dealt with in such a sensitive manner.
I always love a book that focuses on the importance of female friendships, because aren’t they just the best? There really is something so beautiful about the sisterhood us women feel. Would 100% recommend this book (to the right person, maybe not your aunt), can’t wait to read Abigail’s next masterpiece!
Would you recommend it? Yes!