New novel gives the world a different view of Caribbean life

When Breanne Mc Ivor was shopping her manuscript for her debut novel The God of Good Looks, some agents questioned the authenticity of her story.

Set in Trinidad, where Mc Ivor was born and still lives today, the novel is centered in the world of beauty with main characters Obadiah Courtland, makeup artist extraordinaire and the man dubbed the God of Good Looks and journalist turned model Bianca Bridge.

The novel weaves through the urban lives of the characters with high fashion, makeup, and coffee shop culture, with references to Ace of Spades cocktails and caviar on menus. This is not the idyllic Caribbean that usually dominates the narrative internationally.

“I was kind of surprised by the response from some agents and some early readers. I got asked how realistic is it that Obadiah knew about how to do makeup and he is based in Trinidad,” said Mc Ivor, herself a former makeup artist.

“To me, it was quite surprising and I got the sense that this book didn’t really represent the version of the Caribbean they felt an international audience wanted to read about. It took me a long time, a year and a half, to find my current agent. People would be interested but sometimes they would suggest changes that I felt wasn’t so much about changing the book but changing the representation of Trinidad,” she said.

We laugh at the irony of the feedback she received while actually sitting in Starbucks, Ellerslie Plaza for our interview.

Mc Ivor wrote about this experience in an essay for Lithub and received feedback from other Caribbean authors who shared similar experiences.

“I feel like there is a renaissance in Caribbean writing and all of these authors bring such dynamic and unique viewpoints because there is so much in the Caribbean and Trinidad that you can write about,” she said citing authors such as Celeste Mohammed (Pleasantville), Caroline McKenzie (One Year of Ugly) and Andre Bagoo (Narcissus).

“I hope every book pushes an international expectation of what goes beyond the tourist sun, sea and sand,” she said.

The God of Good Looks novel

But even as she writes about her lived experience as a young woman in modern-day Trinidad, McIvor tapped into the past, to the works of a late author for her inspiration for her novel.

Commissioned to do a piece for Bocas Lit Fest for a project called Inspired by the Archives in 2018, Mc Ivor settled on the words of Derek Walcott. She focused on a personal notebook that he had which, she thought, would show her a softer side of his character.

“It was incredibly intelligent, perfect penmanship, no scratch and he carried on, like these really intelligent dialogues with himself. So one of the things he did was he started conducting the self-interviews. He would say W: why did you succumb to the self-interview? And then he’d say, W: for the money. And that actually became the first lines in my commission,” Mc Ivor recalled.

“So I wrote what I thought was a short story commission, I performed it at Bocas. At this time, my literary career was going in a completely different direction. I was in the process of publishing a collection of short stories For Where There Are Monsters for Peepal Tree Press, that really focused on the supernatural and nothing about fashion.

 “But I just couldn’t let these characters go or maybe they couldn’t let me go. I just had to find out if there’s a way for them to be happy, if there’s a way for them to just exist, you know, and well, I guess I had to write it,” she said, noting that makeup was such a big part of her world that it just made sense to center the story there.

A lot of the stories in the book, she said, are an amalgamation of real-life stories and situations she heard and experienced while working as a professional MUA.

And while it is largely a fictional tale, the novel does not shy away from the realities of life in Trinidad and Tobago. Beauty exists side by side with the ugly. The world of the rich and famous are juxtaposed against an escalating crime rate. Social and class dynamics are major themes throughout the novel.

Breanne used her experience as a professional make up artist to centre the book

Bianca, whose journalism career was crushed after her affair with a married politician was exposed, teeters on the edge of her privilege, saved only by her wealthy father. Her world intersects with Obadiah, who pulled himself out of poverty to ascend to the beauty industry’s pinnacle. The clash of worlds gives readers insight into how the dynamics play out on a daily basis.

“I wanted to look at how somebody makes it in such a small society that’s so dependent on connections when you don’t have the connections. I’ve been very interested in that sort of class dynamics. Because I think that on the surface, there’s the right connections but then right below that there’s this very rigid class structure. And there are these barriers to people from certain backgrounds succeeding, and I wanted to look at that through Obadiah. There’s a scene where Bianca finds out where he’s from, and she’s shocked because, you know, it’s almost impossible,” she explained.

The story weaves between Bianca and Obadiah’s perspectives, allowing the reader to choose which protagonist to empathise and sympathise with as we are pulled into their daily lives, thoughts, fears and relationships.

Since its release earlier this month, the God of Good Looks has been garnering acclaim, even making it onto Oprah Daily’s most anticipated books of 2023.

Described as a cross between Devil Wears Prada, The Diary of Bridget Jones and Queenie, the book has also been optioned to be made into either a movie or TV show but McIvor is not in a position to reveal much more.

“That would be surreal to think that these characters could be in a series or something like that. That would be unbelievable to me,” she said of the possibilities.

Holder of degrees in English from the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, Mc Ivor always dreamt of being a full time writer but there was very little information on how to make it financially lucrative.

Eventually she took the leap and left her full time job to pursue her passion.

“I think that having made that decision to try, you know, it’s scary, it’s scary to leave a job on a regular salary. But at the same time, it’s incredibly liberating. And it’s been so good for my writing process,” she said.

Her advice to aspiring writers is to read a lot, be prepared for criticism and be open to edits.

The God of Good Looks is published by HarperCollins in North America and Penguin Random House in the UK.

Follow Breanne Mc Ivor on Instagram @breemcivor


This article was originally published on Loop News (

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