Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

“‘Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!’ were the first words I ever heard. The midwife, a shiny-faced woman who learned entirely new turns of phrase that night, smoothed Ma’s hair.’

Is that not the most impressive opening line you’ve read? It’s certainly memorable. And so begins Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson.

It’s not just the opening line and the title that’s arresting about this story (incidentally, the title is the only thing I don’t like about this book – it’s too long to tweet). It’s a character-driven plot centred around Janie and her mother Iris, and their life in a  succession of council flats, predominantly in Scotland. Regardless of where they are, the story is the same – there’s useless men, the dole queue, drink, drugs and violence to be had in any town. But loyalty and family bonds run deep and as you follow Janie’s rises and falls, you can’t help but become attached.

“…My eyes soaked in the our new neighbourhood. Graffiti and scorch-marks, echoes of small fires, decorated doorsteps. Golden Special Brew cans and crushed vodka bottles, bright as diamonds, collected in the gutters. Front gardens were filled with mouldy paddling pools and, occasionally, a rustburnished shell of a car. I had never seen anything so beautiful, so many colours, before in grey Aberdeen.”

You worry about Janie from the outset – her mother is battling depression, they’re virtually destitute and they find themselves in a string of abusive relationships. But here’s Hudson’s trick – Janie doesn’t worry about Janie because of course, Janie knows nothing different to the life she is living.  And because Janie is such a compelling narrator, you’re okay with salad-cream sandwiches for dinner and a Mars Bar as a birthday present, just as Janie is.

As the experienced and worldly reader, you know how the story is likely to play out for Janie – a repeat of Iris’s ‘mistakes’, an incomplete education, the dole queue, drinking and drugs. And certainly Janie wavers – there’s plenty of wagging school, beer and cider, drugs, stealing and sex. But she’s not a hopeless character and although (thankfully) Hudson doesn’t go down the ‘against-all-odds-rises-above-it’ path, Janie nurses the desire for a bit more. A bit more education, a bit more time in the one town, a bit more joy for her mum. She’s not asking for much, she doesn’t expect anything and for those reasons, you stick by her.

Hudson writes so beautifully about things that are so ugly. Of Janie and Iris’s time at a women’s shelter she speaks of the comradarie between the women –

“Smiles lingered in the dark. Shared secrets, warmer than five blankets and a radiator.”

and

“We stayed at Grafton Hill for three weeks. In that time I saw tears fall into spaghetti-hoop dinners and spines jolt at the sound of drunken passers-by.”

This book is 99 Reasons Why meets Puberty Blues meets Trainspotting meets Angela’s Ashes meets Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. I’m quite sure that no one will ever mention those books together in the same sentence again but they translate to a story about an ‘ordinary’ heroine, coming-of-age, all that is grim, fierce love for family and the solace that is found in books.

I received my copy of  Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma from the publisher, Penguin Books, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

4/5 Memorable.

“Tony might have been an arsehole, but he wasn’t worth wasting a good Coke float over.”

How could I team Tony Hogan with anything but an ice cream float? Janie’s wasn’t elaborate but this one is – Our Seasonal Table’s Rhubarb Float (rhubarb is on my favourite and best fruits list).

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

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23 responses

  1. I’ve come across reviews of this before and while I liked the sound of it I was afraid it was going to be one of those “Against All Odds” stories of how one woman from a shitty Scottish upbringing rises above it all! I think I realise now it’s not as twee or banal as that. I like that first line – it reminds me we do specialise in a neat turn of phrase in Scotland. A friend of mine was a nurse in Glasgow and they were asking a pregnant woman they were treating for an STI who the father was so they could contact them. She explained she was a prostitute but the naive Doctor said that was irrelevant and they needed to know who the Father was. At which point the woman turned to him and said “Listen sweetheart. When you eat baked beans, are you able to say which fucking bean made you fart?!” This sounds like it will be a great read so I will look out for this.

  2. Must be honest, the first line would have put me right off. i often wonder how the greats of literature managed to write such wonderful novels without resorting to shockjock language…

    • I appreciate your point and the book is certainly not for everyone. That said, it doesn’t continue at the same pace and the language is in context.

      Your point did get me thinking though – do the great works of literature have less swearing because they are about people who didn’t swear (as dictated by social norms)? In other words, Austen would not have had her ladies swearing in the drawing room because that wasn’t done but I wonder what was happening in the barn with the servants?! Swearing is a part of every language (for better or worse) and always has been – it is more widely ‘acceptable’ now and perhaps that’s why we see it as part of more popular culture. I’m sure someone has done a doctorate on this!

  3. In reading your comment above, I’m one of those people who believe really well-educated women (and men) can swear without any damage to reputation. It’s all about context. I quite like the first line and would’ve continued because of it. Though the Trainspotting comparison would’ve hooked me too…

    It would be lovely if you could review a book (that I want to read) published in the US. Just kidding. I actually like hearing about these because otherwise I never would.

  4. This sounds very good, and yes, I like the first line – I guess it’ll either turn you off reading it or stop you wanting to put it down from the word go. I like that the title’s so long, though I suppose you do have to turn it into an acronym to tweet it! Well done on What’s In A Name. Awesome choice for the category!

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