OPINION - Margo's Got Money Troubles review: OnlyFans, the novel, just doesn't work


The publisher blurb accompanying Rufi Thorpe’s latest novel (see also The Girls from Corona Del Mar, The Knockout Queen) shouts breathlessly that it is a story about OnlyFans, young single motherhood and pro-wrestling.

It’s a uniquely confusing combination which won’t be for everyone. There are scenes, for example, which see our protagonist Margo Millet critiquing dick pics on OnlyFans for $20 a pop using Pokemon characters. “Congratulations! Your penis is a Tentacruel! With bulging pink glans and glittering dark blue veins, your penis is filled with quiet menace. When that mushroom tip glows red, you know he’s about to attack.” See? Not for everyone.

But what do I know? Clearly the clever folks over at A24 disagree. The cult production studio behind juggernaut series like Euphoria, Beef and The Curse, along with writer and producer David E Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Undoing, Anatomy of a Scandal) are adapting the novel for an Apple TV+ show starring Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer. Fanning is also the voice of the audiobook.

What this all screams is that (in my late thirties) perhaps I’m about 10-15 years too old for books about OnlyFans which talk of “vibe shifts” and Fortnite dances. Frankly, it’s a bit depressing that producers think this is what the youth wants. It’s as if a random word generator has been set to “Gen Z” and spewed out young vernacular. It might as well say Boobs! Farts! Snogging!

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy large parts of it. Let’s reverse back to Margo. Aged 19 she has a brief, rather limp, affair with her English college professor. Mark is married with two children and seems completely unappealing. Lo and behold, Margo discovers she’s pregnant, he dumps her and wants nothing to do with the baby. She, after some brief soul searching, decides to crack on with the pregnancy.

There is a lot going on and, I would argue, much of it is superfluous

Her mum is a self-obsessed former Hooters waitress and her dad is a pro-wrestler, addict and serial cheater who has been largely absent from her life and living with his wife and other children. Due to circumstance and necessity, Margo is therefore naive, tough and blindly determined all at once. She’s an endearing young woman who’s been dealt a rough hand, a useless family and finds herself in a precarious financial situation after losing her job as a waitress (the common tale of mothers becoming suddenly disposable in the workplace crops up here). And so, she turns to OnlyFans to make some cash, fast.

The pro-wrestler dad comes back into the picture to live with her and the baby and is broadly supportive of her OnlyFans career, while her mother disowns her, even disinviting her to her Las Vegas wedding. Margo is humiliated by her high school best friend and trolled by former classmates. Life has never been easy, but she didn’t expect it to become this hard. She embarks on an online relationship with one of her OnlyFans clients and is forced to endure a custody battle when her baby’s father discovers she’s making her living as a sex worker.

There is a lot going on and, I would argue, much of it is superfluous. The blow by blow accounts of how she scripts and art directs her OnlyFans videos while collaborating with other creators to go viral feel unnecessary. While Thorpe is clearly at pains to avoid moralising and successfully tells Margo’s story with a polite distance (often switching between first and third person narration as a device, which works well), the over-emphasis on OnlyFans as nothing more than a harmless expressive artform felt laboured.

While parts were forgettable and easy to skim over, Margo’s Got Money Troubles really comes into its own when exploring Margo’s instinctive relationship with her infant son, the push and pull of teenage single motherhood and her pulsing fear throughout the custody battle and a social services investigation. These moments of tension are gripping. Other moments are extremely funny. The rest felt like a clunky distraction.

But, again, what do I know? I wait, happy to be disproven, as this becomes the TV phenomenon of the year.

Margo’s Got Money Troubles (Sceptre, £16.99) is published on July 4

Suzannah Ramsdale is the Evening Standard’s lifestyle director