Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson
|Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: This fictionalised account of life in the underbelly of British society through the eyes of a growing child begins extremely well but the humour drifts off in the second half as the story settles down to a downward inevitability. Definitely worth picking up though as Kerry Hudson is talented and the good moments are priceless.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: July 2012|
|Publisher: Chatto and Windus|
|External links: Author's website|
Long listed for the Guardian First Book Award 2012
Janie Ryan is born into a definitely underprivileged family. Despite a mother who tries to make the right decisions, growing up becomes a fight for survival (both figuratively and literally) as Janie encounters social services, tough schools, domestic violence and an array of 'uncles', all promising a better future that seems as tangible as the holy grail.
Tony Hogan... was written for all the right reasons. Kerry Hudson, herself one of the world's 'Janies', wanted to write something to demonstrate the struggles that haunt the hoodies on the street corners working, as she does now, for a children's charity offering the help that she needed at their age. I therefore feel quite churlish not being able to launch forth with unbridled enthusiasm. There is enthusiasm, but so is there bridling. You see, this is a book of two halves. If Kerry had stopped halfway through there would have been another review star or two because she is an author of huge promise. Let's start at the beginning.
The whole novel is seen through Janie's eyes. Her baby and small child's view of the world made me giggle despite the underlying poignancy. Kerry is one of life's observers and this pays off in the witty characterisation and her gift of being able to sum up a whole person up in a mere line or two. For instance, the way that Janie assesses the family into which baby Janie has just been born or Janie's experience in care as a toddler, meeting her first black person. The language is rich and very clever, in fact I wish that I was able to quote a couple of sentences, but unfortunately I had a review proof so can't share in detail. You'll just have to read that for yourself.
So what went wrong? Basically as Janie grows up the humour fades and only sadness and frustration remains. There's a glimmer of hope at the end but, in order to get there, Janie watches her family become more touched and tainted by drugs and sees them become more desperate as the lights at the end of the tunnel translate into oncoming trains. Yes, this is bound to happen to some extent as a teenage Janie will understand more than when she was a small child and misunderstanding amusingly. Yes, this can be seen as a good device to emphasise the starkness of life for 'Janies' everywhere. But after a while it becomes very difficult to read as it feels as if the reader is being bludgeoned with blunt hopelessness. Perhaps looking at it like a painting will explain more clearly. The first half of the novel does have moments of despair and sadness, but the humour ensures that the darkness is picked out in a contrast that brightens it and enables the reader to see more clearly. If we're likening it to other authors, it's similar to what Willy Russell does. The second half is just shades of black on black making it harder to see and absorb, like a depressed Thomas Hardy.
Having said this, please don't let me put you off reading Tony Hogan... as it opens the door on a slice of society forced to live in a marginalised co-existence with (and probably by) the rest of us. It's also written by someone who will one day excite the literary world, and authors like that are always worth keeping an eye on.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you enjoyed this and would like to try a Willy Russell novel, how about The Wrong Boy. If it's whetted your appetite for quirky families in general then Amelia and the Virgin by Nicky Harlow is a definite recommendation.
You can read more book reviews or buy Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.