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The Madonna of Bolton

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  610 ratings  ·  90 reviews
‘Fabulous Matt Cain and fabulous Madonna together at last – what a treat’ - Jenny Colgan

Glorious ... a triumphant coming of age tale about the power of being true to yourself’ - Juno Dawson

Charlie Matthews’ love story begins in a pebble-dashed house in suburban Bolton, at a time when most little boys want to grow up to be Michael Jackson, and girl
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published July 12th 2018 by Unbound
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  610 ratings  ·  90 reviews

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Matt Cain writes a delightfully warm, witty, and an emotional rollercoaster of a homage to Bolton in this story of the life and times of Charlie, gay, obsessed with Madonna ever since his Auntie Jan bought him the single, Lucky Star, on his 9th birthday. Charlie and best friend, Shanaz, are the school outcasts, doomed to fail in all their attempts to try and fit in. None of the school tribes fit, not the Stiffs, Townies or the Indies, and the pair ride out being different, facing anti-gay and ra ...more
K.J. Charles
THIS. IS. GLORIOUS. The story of a Bolton boy growing up gay in the 1980s, and his parallel journeys through uni and work; through internalised homophobia and self-destructive hedonism to self-acceptance; and through Madonna's discography.

It's really lovely. There are some painful scenes especially in Charlie's childhood, being called names at school and feeling his parents's fear and incomprehension, but the main struggle Charlie has is with learning to accept and love himself. That really is
Ije the Devourer of Books

I loved this book. Infact I adored it!

It is going on my list of 'exquisite books of 2018'. The author has written a story that is creative, gripping, entertaining and heart warming, but also very truthful. It is a story that tells us about family, friends and community, and also about the pain and struggle of life and how these can be overcome in the strangest of ways. In this story Madonna is one of those ways.

Charlie is a peculiar child, at least in his Dad's eyes. Charlie doesn't like footbal
Karen Mace
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a real blast to read!! Full of so much pop history and retro mentions, I found myself constantly smiling and thinking back as we follow the story of Charlie and his love affair with the Queen of Pop herself - Madonna!

He's a young boy in Bolton, who doesn't like football, much to the disappointment of his Dad and brother, so he has never fitted in but on his 9th birthday his Auntie buys him a 7" single of Lucky Star by Madonna, and he falls in love immediately! Playing the song over and
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
3.5 rounded up to 4.

I wanted to read this after seeing a very positive, glowing review from K.J. Charles here on Goodreads.

It was good; in fact I got through it in two days, as it was so easy to read. I felt sorry for Charlie for the bullying he suffered at school, and was happy when he finally arrived at Cambridge, where he fitted in much better.

There were things that bothered me ... (view spoiler)
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a belter

A great book for everyone (even if you don't like Madonna). Maybe I'm biased because I'm Northern but this is a warm funny story & if you've ever felt like an outcast, and found solace in something you love this book will speak to you
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Started off well, I could relate being a massive Madonna fan from an early age, but I found the writing a bit young adulty. Although I loved the positivity of it, it started to grate a bit by the end...
Claire (Book Blog Bird)
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtqia, non-fiction
This book was pretty good, but it reminded me that anyone who says the eighties were great is a liar. The eighties were rubbish, especially if you were gay. And, going by this book, the worst place to be gay in the eighties was Bolton. It sounds like the epitome of the whole gay=AIDS mentality. People listen to eighties music and watch Back To The Future and think the eighties were great, but there were an awful lot of people having a really terrible time. As far as I can tell, the only person h ...more
Christopher Jones
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A lovely little piece of escapism ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Karen Cole
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I first heard about The Madonna of Bolton last year when it hit the headlines after being deemed 'too gay' by mainstream publishers. I'm a cis straight woman so presumably those publishers assumed I'd be the sort of person who wouldn't be interested on reading a coming-of-age story about a gay man. I'm so pleased then that thanks to Unbound I was able to read this wonderful semi-autobiographical novel because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We are first introduced to Charlie Matthews on his ninth birthd
Jane Willis
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On a recent visit to London, on a sunny day, I saw a young couple walking hand in hand, grinning happily at each other and looking so totally in love that everyone passing by couldn’t help looking at them and smiling, their happiness was so infectious. It made me think, though, of a time only a few decades ago when, had a similar couple done the same, they would have been met by frowns and tuts of disapproval and possibly even torrents of abuse – simply because the two people so in love were mal ...more
Nathalie  C
Sep 21, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, maybe 4. I listened to the audiobook, which was awful. The sound quality and narration were absolutely dreadful, so that interfered with my enjoyment. I had to keep trying to look beyond that and listen to the story. Initially I didn’t like the way it was written, the style isn’t really right for a novel, but once I reframed it in my mind as a memoir I really enjoyed it. Not a great novel, but a very good memoir.
Ann T
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thank you Unvound amd Netgalley for an ARC in return for my honest review.

I’m so glad I have been given the opportunity to read this wonderful book.
It was a fun, engaging read and I hope to hear more from this author.
Ian Webster
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An absolute joy, if you have a passing interest in the Queen Of Pop, the Eighties & Victoria Wood is your bag then this is for you... you’ll laugh... you’ll cry
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
i rlly rlly liked this tbh
James Hewkin
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book.
Nicolas Chinardet
With its structure underpinned by Madonna's discography, that lends it an ounce of originality, this endearing coming-of-age/coming-out story covers some very familiar ground. Gay boy grows up miserable in an unsympathetic small town, runs away to the big city to find freedom, acceptance and himself.

I'm assuming, from the little I know of the author whom I've met a couple of times, that a large part of this is autobiographical, and I have to admit that I recognised many elements of my own exper
Andrew Chidzey
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in Soho, London on a whim and glad I did as I found it a thoroughly engaging story. The writing is refreshing and honest and, although corny in some parts with a Hollywood ending, it nevertheless made me both laugh and cry. A great read.
Dennis Holland
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
A “Ray of Light!” Just “Like a Prayer,” this “Material Girl” promises you will get “Into the Groove” as ‘The Madonna of Bolton’ “Vogue”s into your life and you “Open Your Heart” to him.
Jay Bracknell
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Very much reads like a memoir rather than a novel. The episodic, pretty much all tell no show narrative can sometimes be confusing (we suddenly arrive at a funeral, the death preceding which happens off page, jump from a kind of meet cute to nine months later oh by the way he’s my boyfriend) and there were parts I really wish had been given more page space to really flourish, but there’s undeniably something quite healing about watching Charlie go all the way from a scared gay kid at school to a ...more
This was a quick read, and an interesting look into growing up gay in a northern English town. I was the most emotionally engaged at the end when Charlie sort of turns everything around for himself and comes to terms with his family, but other times, I found the story a little flat.

The rest might be spoilery, just a headsup.

The chapters around 2/3 in made me a little down. On the one hand, he has this really romantic view of love that strikes me as slightly naïve, on the other hand he's jealous
Kimberly van Pinxteren
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Madonna of Bolton takes you on a journey with our main character Charlie Matthews. Charlie falls in love when for his birthday he’s given a 7″ single of Madonna’s Lucky Star track. From here you’ll get to go on a ride with Charlie as he’s living his life, struggling with his sexuality, wanting to be ‘normal’, the approval of his parents, aspiring to be a writer, finding love. Madonna is the soundtrack, every chapter dedicated to one of her songs that is like a thread running through his life ...more
Andrew Salgado
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Matt has succeeded in writing a book that is both touching and camp, fun but poignant, gleeful but personal. It’s filled with pop culture references so in many ways it reminded me of Brett Easton Ellis’ Glamorama, just not cynical nor surreal like that book, in its place is such a sense of optimism and brightness. it comes across as quite lighthearted at first and then - particularly as a gay man - hits upon some touchstones and moments of poignancy and depth with familial ties, personal struggl ...more
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: gay-interest
A really enjoyable, and relatable, read. The homophobic bullying at school, the slightly terrifying local, one-and-only, gay bar, the reinvention and acceptance at Uni, the threat of AIDS, will strike a chord with virtually every gay man of a certain age. The fact Madonna has been there for every stage of our lives just can't be emphasised enough in this age where virtually every pop starlet is automatically an lgbtq ally simply by posting a rainbow once on Instagram. Was the happy ending, and t ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the Madonna of Bolton you’re taken on a journey of nostalgia through the use of Madonna’s back catalogue along with Charlie himself.

There are lots of life lessons and affirming moments. Important issues such as coming out, being gay, racism, promiscuity, std’s, death, suicide, bullying and family. The common thread throughout the book revolves around relationships and how they can change and define people whether it’s family, friends, lovers, partners, teachers, bullies or even Madonna.

A wo
Gareth Johnstone
Amusing though from reading the book and hearing the author on R4 on Saturday I'm puzzled as to why he wrote it as fiction rather than as a memoir. Some of the writing is clunky and repetitive and I was irritated by his frequent mentions of 'her latest album' rather than naming each one and giving us more of a clue as to the chronology of the events he mentions. Also a bit sentimental for my taste, though much of what he has to say about family and friends rings true ...more
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this. The simplicity of using pop songs to tell a story of our lives really works. The low culture is offset by a really truly emotionally intelligent story of a young boy and his relationship with self. I'm not a boy, I'm not gay but I totally identified with the character as he found himself in places he felt he didn't belong. Read it! ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a book that could have been really good, but suffers from bad editing. It's easily 100 pages too long. Starts slow, picks up and has a good middle section, and then slides into tedium, becoming mostly didactic, moralistic, heterosexist, sentimental dross. A good editor could've helped make this a great book, but as it is it's just passable. ...more
Dave Holwill
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this, I cried, I laughed, I identified with Charlie's schooldays.
Excellent story.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Started off well but felt it was too episodic towards the end. Would make a great feelgood British film.

2 1/2 stars.
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Matt Cain was born in Bury and brought up in Bolton. He is an author, a leading commentator on LGBT+ issues, and a former journalist. He was Channel 4’s first Culture Editor, Editor-In-Chief of Attitude magazine, and has judged the Costa Prize, the Polari Prize and the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. He won Diversity In Media’s Journalist Of the Year award in 2017 and is an ambassador for Manchester P ...more

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