As unusual book titles go, Tony Hogan bought me an Ice Cream Float before he stole my Ma is right up there. Team that with a distinctive cover showing the silhouette of a jumping girl holding a red balloon on a blue background and I knew I wanted to read this debut novel even before its author, Kerry Hudson, dropped by here last year as part of her blog tour for the book’s publication.
Given all that ‘new book from a new author’ excitement, I can’t really explain why it then took me almost a year until I finally got around to reading it. Part of me is still kicking myself for the delay and that lost time in which I could have been getting to know such a captivating character as the narrator of Tony Hogan.
You see, as great as the title and cover are, it’s only when you start reading Tony Hogan that the real magic happens.
Every so often you come across a distinctive new voice in a novel. There’s something about it that really speaks to you: you can hear it even when you put the book down for a break, so you re-run snatches of dialogue, quips and anecdotes and laugh or wince at them again. That voice grabs your attention and, once it has you, you’ll pretty much follow it anywhere it wants to take you. Even if that’s to somewhere unfamiliar or uncomfortable, worse than anywhere you’ve ever known or are used to, places you may never have been to in real life or those you might well want to shy away from, even when they’re safely contained within the pages of a novel.
In Tony Hogan, that voice belongs to Janie Ryan. Here’s what the blurb has to say about Janie and her story:
When Janie Ryan is born, she’s just the latest in a long line of Ryan women, Aberdeen fishwives to the marrow, always ready to fight. Her violet-eyed Grandma had predicted she’d be sly, while blowing Benson and Hedges smoke rings over her Ma’s swollen belly. In the hospital, her family approached her suspiciously, so close she could smell whether they’d had booze or food for breakfast. It was mostly booze.
Tony Hogan tells the story of a Scottish childhood of filthy council flats and B&Bs, screeching women, feckless men, fags and booze and drugs, the dole queue and bread and marge sandwiches. It is also the story of an irresistible, irrepressible heroine, a dysfunctional family you can’t help but adore, the absurdities of the eighties and the fierce bonds that tie people together no matter what. Told in an arrestingly original — and cry-out-loud funny — voice, it launches itself headlong into the middle of one of life’s great fights, between the pull of the past and the freedom of the future. And Janie Ryan, born and bred for combat, is ready to win.
Ryan family life is gritty, brutal and uncompromising, but also not without love and at times laugh out loud funny and the way that Janie battles her way through all the challenges of her upbringing and circumstances is remarkable. Despite what her mother and grandmother think of her, Janie Ryan is neither vicious nor sly but she’s definitely not weak or a victim either. She’s one of life’s survivors, a bright girl who finds solace and possibilites in the local library and she is quietly, but also fiercely, resilient. Which didn’t stop me from sometimes wanting to shake her mother into taking better notice, let alone better care of her. I often caught myself talking out loud to both Janie and her mother while reading and I always had the impression that I needed to keep reading to see Janie through her story and get her safely past each new trial in her life and out the other side. Whether or not she manages that, you’ll have to read for yourself. And I really hope you do because this is a book, whose whole family of characters and not just its endearing main character, will live with me for a long time to come. From an author whose next books I’ll be eagerly awaiting.
Tony Hogan bought me an Ice Cream Float before he stole my Ma is Kerry Hudson’s debut novel and is published by Chatto & Windus. It is out in paperback today from all good booksellers and online resellers, including Amazon UK and The Book Depository. You can find out more about Kerry on her Author Website or you can Follow Kerry on Twitter.