I live in a flat that is piled high with books and the only question I ever have is: which book shall I read next? I'm lucky enough to live with a literary agent who shares similar reading interests to myself, which means that I always have book recommendations and there are plenty of books around for me to choose. And recently I had a great recommendation: Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson. I read it before it had been officially released, and what's more, last week I got to go to the book launch as well. It was up in Stoke Newington and over the course of the day, the entire novel was read by a mixture of actors, volunteers, Kerry herself and... well my flatmate and me. We weren't able to go till after work so I only caught the last few chapters, but luckily I'd already read it so knew what had passed and what was to come. Didn't mean I was any better at reading aloud in front of lots of people - I stammered and fell all over the place. But it was a great afternoon/evening, I got to meet the author and I really enjoyed the experience.
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma - Kerry Hudson
This novel is set around the Ryan family: Iris (Ma), Janie and Tiny (Tiffany), and winds its way from Aberdeen to Great Yarmouth, via plenty of council estates and dodgy B&Bs. The main protagonist is Janie; the novel starts with her birth and being surrounded by her relatives, whose breakfast you can smell on their breaths, and it's mostly of the alcohol variety. I can't exactly say this is a heart-warming story as it's based on what life is like at the bottom of the pile for those trying to scrape by on benefits, loans and what can be scavenged before managing to get away as the rent collector starts knocking at the door. It shows the gritty, seedy side of life where dreams are things that people who are better off can have - there isn't room for them if you are a Ryan woman. It's a hard life for Janie; while Uncle Frankie helps out when he can, Janie grows up knowing that food is in short supply, you take what you can and it's often better not to ask too many questions.
The novel is hard-hitting but in such a manner as to defy pity: Janie has a potty-mouth if ever there was one, she's a tough little cookie who you know can look after herself. You find yourself rooting for Janie, and praying that she'll manage to escape the all-too-apparent cycle that you can see her falling into before she's even got to school. And of course school doesn't make it any easier - she is told not to bother aspiring to anything because no one from her background has ever managed to get out of the cycle and she won't either. In the later chapters of the book you become more and more uneasy as you sense the inevitable hurtling towards her, hoping that she'll break away. At the same time, as a reader you are touched by the fleeting glimpses of emotion that you are privy to; the Ryan women may make out that they are hard as nails, but the scenes of them curled up together for warmth or to protect each other are, at times, heart-breaking. They are what make the story so touching, and what make you hope that somehow there will be a happy ending after all.
It's a gripping story of what life really is like for some people, and it's not entirely fictional either. Kerry Hudson, like Janie, was born in Aberdeen and spent the early years of her life moving between estates, B&Bs and caravan parks so a lot of the material for this novel has come from first hand experience. It's a story that leaves you wanting to know more; it's written in such an engaging, matter-of-fact tone that you find yourself enjoying it, despite the fairly dark content. I for one want to know what happens to Janie after the story has ended and will definitely be looking out for more work by Kerry Hudson. A really good read that I really enjoyed and would recommend.