Tony Hogan bought me an ice cream float before he stole my ma by Kerry Hudson


First off, I didn’t like this title. I felt like a dick asking for it in the book shop and it certainly didn’t trip off the tongue. Secondly, I hated the beginning. I usually make up my mind whether I like a book within the first few pages and within minutes of starting this one, I had the same anxious, nervousness I get when I’m waking up with a really bad hangover.

But – I’m in a book club with some friends and seeing as I’d been moaning at them to ensure it was a proper book club this time round and not just an excuse to catch up whilst drinking wine (leading some degenerates to re-name it wine club, I mean, can you imagine….), I felt obliged to continue.

I generally object to these kinds of books. I find it unnecessary to read stories of children living in abject poverty and encountering terrible people. The fact that I know that children and young people around the world are treated like this and worse, does not need to be made clearer to me, so reading fiction about it just feels voyeuristic.

But – the life which Janie and her family live in is described in an unsentimental and gritty way, through the eyes of a girl who see’s far too much for her young years, and I was totally compelled to read it, which is testament to Kerry Hudson’s artful way with words.

I appreciated the way it talks (I found I’d perfected a Scottish accent by reading the speech as it’s written), I was engaged with Janie from the moment she was born (although the fact that as a new baby she understood everything, made me wonder if I had embarked on some kind of sci-fi novel), I created opportunities to read it (long baths, with the added bonus of avoiding childcare), so I clearly wanted to know what happened to Janie, and I really did care, but I felt  only relief when I’d finished.

Slagging this book off, which I assume was written to honour the memories of others not able to do so with such eloquence (and it is eloquent) or as some kind of memoir, is not my intention. In fact, maybe one day I’ll make my children read it, so they can see what a privileged upbringing (i.e. a perfectly normal, nice childhood) they have had. It’s a book which has perfectly captured a life in time, which might otherwise remain unrecorded, due to its apparent insignificance. Except Janie isn’t insignificant, she’s vibrant and colourful and deserves to be documented.

But what will I say to my fellow book clubbers about it?

I will say that I didn’t like the title. I will say that I don’t like being a voyeur to other people’s misery. And  I will say that Janie made me laugh and cry and feel sick and I wanted to punch her Gran and Tony Hogan (among others), in the face. And that I’m still relieved that I’m not reading it anymore. But that I’m glad it was written.

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