Kerry Hudson thanked me on Twitter for saying how much I loved her book.
She said something like ‘thanks guy’ (she probably wasn’t sure since I’ve got a picture of a koala bear on my profile and unless they turn round it’s often difficult to tell the male from the female. Even Koala’s make mistakes, but unlike me, they never blog about it. So although I look like a koala, don’t be fooled by the furry face and benign smile).
I think Kerry read my blog. At least she said she did, but she might just have been tw0-faced. You decide.
It’s a catchy title that titillates. You know when you open the pages it won’t be like wading through text book squiggles of grey snails lining up to teach you something meaningful about the author’s life that you don’t want to know. It won’t try and regress you or teach you that God is on your side if you can just [well, fill in your own bit here].
To begin with Hudson’s book disappointed me. It has been described as autobiographical. Here, the narrator Janie, describes her birth: ‘“Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!” were he first words I heard.’ Janie’s Ma is prone to these sudden attacks of verbosity. Janie develops a similar foul mouth, ‘filthy temper’ and stubborn streak associated with the Ryan woman. Her little sister Tiny has a different Da, one that filled the familiar pattern of fucking, fucking it up and fucking off. Janie’s Da was an older married man in London. Sometimes Janie’s Ma made the decision to move on — they, for example, went looking for Janie’s Da, described as an American — and sometimes the decision was made for her. Tony Hogan pulled her earrings out of her ear with a yank, but he wasn’t an American. He was a low-level gangster and drug dealer her Ma had hooked up with. He took care of Ma so well she was hospitalised and Janie taken into care. Ma survives on Crisis Loans from the DHSS, Giro payments and Housing Association homes that fleas wouldn’t live in. Worse though was the slum landlords that rented out Bed and Breakfast, locked them out during the day and asked for extra in cash. Mrs Sheathes had a number of houses in Canterbury, such a pretty city, but it could have been anywhere, Aberdeen, even fucking Airdrie which was supposed to be Glasgow or Great Yarmouth, that wasn’t so great. By this time Janie is pregnant, being viciously bullied at school and is threatening to follow directly into her mother’s footsteps of anywhere but here.
‘I stood up and she did too. I was an inch, maybe two, taller than her, even barefoot, but she got right into my face, pushing my head forward into the space between us so she was shouting into my mouth: “Do you know what I’ve done for you two? What I’ve been through? You’ve no idea! I sacrificed my whole life so you an’ Tiny could have a good start. So don’t call me a bad ma”’.
The reader does know what sacrifices Ma has made. The problem of the omniscient baby narrator grows long enough legs to support the narrative. And you’ve got to love Ma and Janie, Tiny and Findus Crispy Pancakes. Remember them?