“Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!’ were the first words I ever heard.”
And so opens the brilliant, funny debut novel* by Kerry Hudson. Not only is the opening line memorable, it serves as a litmus test. If a reader were to find it overwhelmingly offensive, then they should stop there. If you can see the humor in the words that greeted Janie Ryan upon arrival into this world, I think you’ll enjoy this novel. I certainly did (and I picked it up on Kate’s recommendation).
The books tells the story of the Ryan women, Aberdeen fishwives to the marrow with” filthy mouths, filthy tempers, and big bruised muscles for hearts”, and what they do to survive. As we follow Janie from birth through late teenage years, we see the world through her eyes. So despite her difficult childhood, Janie neither complains, nor pities herself. It’s her life and she’s never known anything other than poverty, drinking, drugs, a string of unfortunate men, and a unstable mother. As she moves from temporary slum to group home to a fading beach town, you’ll want laugh and cry in equal measure.
I was particularly fond of the solace she found in the public library when she was a child, and how the comfort both helped and hurt when she got older.
“Sometimes it worked and I felt the walls crumbling away from around me. I got transported to places where anyone could do anything and good things happened to kind people. But sometimes it was just like my books, and it really was just words and stories and when I tried to get back that electric, excited feeling I just felt a bit empty; like I needed a few shots or a good ride. Still, those programmes and books were a bruise I had to keep pressing and I went back again and again to them over the summer. No matter how off the rails I got, whatever stranger I had let shag me, or however hammered I’d been the night before, I always found myself back turning those pages, or flitting through channels, and hoping. And on the days when it didn’t feel like magic, I let that empty feeling sink into my bones and it scared the shit out of me.”
Despite the poverty and trauma of Janie’s childhood, which is reflective of the author’s as well, the novel has a certain colorful glee that keeps it from turning into just another misery memoir. I loved it and would highly recommend this stylishly foul-mouthed, endearing coming of age story. Enchanting and unflinching, 4.5/5.
Naturally, pair this one with an ice cream float because spam-colored, white supremacist “Tony Hogan may have been an arsehole, but he wasn’t worth wasting a good Coke float over”.
*I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Recipe found on Snapfood.