A coming-of-age debut novel from London-based author Hudson.
This (apparently semiautobiographical) novel traces the first 16 years of the life of a Scottish girl, born into picaresque poverty to a single mother, who is trying to find a man (any man) who can help them elevate their circumstances and secure some stability. The problems (in the novel and with it) begin with the protagonist’s birth, because she is apparently the narrator as soon as she leaves the womb. And both her perceptive abilities and language (often foulmouthed) vary widely, as the reader must determine how much faith to put in a narrator who can neither walk nor talk and who may (or may not) realize how dire (or not) her circumstances might be. Yet, it’s a testament to the author’s compelling voice that the reader feels he or she knows and cares about narrator Janie, her mother, Iris, and many of the ne’er-do-wells they encounter on life’s crooked path. Beyond the frequent profanity, the language abounds with working-class colloquialism: “Grandma had cooked mince, tatties and skirlie.” Janie never knows her father, supposedly an American, but his would-be substitutes range from “a known psychopath” involved in the drug trade to a deadbeat who can’t find or keep work. After the birth of a second daughter, Iris suffers from depression and drugs, leaving preschool Janie to holler, “I’m warning yeh, I’m the grown-up here. I’m the ma!” Aside from a family that is loving in its way, Janie ultimately values “those librarians [who] were the only ones who knew how much hope was snagged in those books.’’ (Sounds like a budding author.) And the greatest fear, for the reader at least, is that her fate will simply recycle her mother’s, that, as Iris says, “Aye, we’re peas in a pod alright Janie.”
A funny and dark sensibility can’t quite overcome the flaws of this novel, which ends with plenty of unfinished business, suggesting a sequel or a series.