Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice-Cream Float before he Stole my Ma - Kerry Hudson

'We were a glass family, she was a glass ma and I needed to wrap us up, handle her gently.' 

The fragility of this family's existence is evident early on, and throughout this wonderful debut novel, which arrested my attention from the very first words, as little Janie Ryan first comes into the world. She joins the family of 'Ryan Women, with filthy tempers, filthy mouths and big bruised muscles for hearts.' 

Janie recounts her very personal story to us throughout the whole novel, and this is certainly a warts and all account. She endures a very unsettled childhood, moving often from flats to B&Bs to tower blocks, and never staying in any one town very long, and her and her ma are always poor, scraping to make ends meet.  Men come into her mother's and therefore Janie's life too, and leave more than one kind of scar behind when they disappear again. 

The intensity of her life and the rough treatment she has witnessed is mirrored very effectively in the language used by the author to describe Janie's perceptions of nature and things around her: 'The wind pummelled angry fists against the windows and threw its weight against the walls and the oven burner jumped and sighed, like a scared girlfriend.' The images that these descriptions conjure up are harsh and violent, and therefore fitting interpretations by Janie of these aspects of the world that surround her, because these are things that she has heard and seen. Janie is often left to take on the role of looking after everyone, caring for her ma when she can't cope with the world anymore, and looking after herself as best she knows how.

I was delighted to read of Janie's joy as a little girl at discovering the library and a love of books, of pictures and of words, all available to her without cost. 

'Running to sit at the little plastic chairs I felt the library's warm, still air push inside me to slow my thumping heart and the second-hand-shop smell snake up my nostrils, winding itself snug around my insides. When I opened the books, and I could open as many as I liked because it cost us nothing, the pictures lay on my eyes like oil on water and the dancing letters settled on my tongue with the smell and the taste of black-jack sweeties. While Ma bit at her lips, ripped at her cuticles and read old magazines, I was learning how stories could make me feel safe. '

I was amused by the humour that could be created even in the midst of yet another move to another temporary home. 'Ma said it wasn't a proper B&B, even though it was called the 'Pride of Shields B&B', but a halfway house, and when I asked halfway to what, she told me to 'shut it, smart-arse.'

Many of the references to the culture of the time as Janie was growing up really struck a chord with me, the trends like everyone wearing adidas gazelles, and remembering the character Zammo's addiction in Grange Hill. Unlike those for whom this was a plotline in a television show though, Janie has to cope with a close relative's similar addiction at first-hand, witnessing the desperate, tragic lows.

I was absorbed in this story; I was so hopeful for Janie when things started to go a bit better, then so worried for her when they took a turn for the worst again. Kerry Hudson has painted a convincing picture of Janie's life, one that I believed, and I was keen to turn the pages and discover her fate. I don't think a life like Janie's is one that is often depicted in fiction, or certainly not in the fiction I have generally come across. I think it is an important novel in this regard. It gives a voice to someone who is on the fringes of society, living a harsh brutal existence, but nevertheless growing and developing and somehow getting through each day and even sensing that there could be a better future out there - and that's a wonderful thought.

This is a frank account of a difficult childhood and adolescence, at times very sad, yet it is written with such honesty and grace and it is certainly not without optimism, humour and even joy. Janie is looking back at where she has been, what she has lived through, and then she is looking to the future, as the very last words in the book indicate. She is a resilient girl, now a young woman, and she has a good head on her shoulders despite, and perhaps because of, what she has learned about life thus far. As her ma says, 'you're smart enough tae take the good bits and leave the rest, Janie.'

Published by Chatto & Windus

Thanks to the author and the publisher for kindly sending a copy of this novel to read and review.

You can read a special guest post from the author here, which appeared earlier in the year on my blog.

You can follow the author on twitter @KerrysWindow and visit her website here.


  1. Great Review. I love the title - it made me smile :)

    1. Thanks Josie for commenting. The title's brilliant isn't it :)

  2. It's interesting to read different opinions from readers Lins. Love your optimism for Jamie x

    1. Thanks for commenting Shaz :) Got to hope she has a chance in the future.

  3. that was meant to be JaNie!

  4. I doubt I will be adding this title to my wishlist although it sounds interesting enough that I would read if given the opportunity. Thanks for the review.

  5. I love the title and after reading your review can't wait to read the book.


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