As an emotional interpreter of jazz and folk, Coughlan has long had an impressive ability to inhabit the songs she sings, conveying a powerful energy that has frequently drawn comparisons with one of her heroines, Billie Holiday. Her own life has been a catalogue of trouble, trauma and setbacks, yet her autobiography doesn’t always engage with or articulate the full impact of the bumpy ride.
The raw ingredients are all here: sexual abuse as a child, difficult marriages, alcoholism, suicide attempts, psychiatric committals, and a tendency to torpedo her own musical career at the most inopportune times. The stumbling block is the writing style, Coughlan flicking through her back pages as if these are things that happened to someone else, as coldly detached as a 10-a-penny Catherine Cookson fiction.
It would be wrong to suggest that what has clearly been a life lived under several clouds should be “sexed up” for the benefit of a voyeuristic reader, but perhaps a more capable ghostwriter could have brought a greater atmosphere and literacy to the proceedings. As it is, Bloody Mary reads like a series of lazily drafted social worker reports.