18th Sep 2012
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson
Kerry Hudson’s début novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma was recently announced on the long list for the Guardian First Book Award 2012.
A story loosely based on Hudson’s own childhood, growing up in various council estates and caravan parks, critics have praised her sharp eye for idiosyncrasy have proven united in their opinion that Hudson has created a cast of characters that it is impossible not to root for.
From the very first expletive-filled moments that Janie Ryan is born in to a long line of Aberdeen fishwives, Tony Hogan is clearly a coming-of-age tale like no other.
Janie is brought up by a sorry but endearing bunch, including her probably-bipolar Ma, her drug-dealing Uncle Frankie, a sequence of abusive or neglectful Das and a Grandma who misses numerous key events in Janie’s life because she’s playing bingo.
Her early years are spent in near-derelict council estates where “Golden Special Brew cans and crushed vodka bottles, bright as diamonds, [collect] in the gutters”, and Hudson’s writing itself sparkles as she portrays a world of heroine addiction, domestic violence and women’s shelters through a child’s eyes.
Janie’s Ma uproots her daughter countless times, dragging her from dingy flat to care home to B&B, not just in Scotland but throughout the length and breadth of Britain. They settle variously in London, Canterbury, Glasgow, Great Yarmouth…
When Janie’s younger sister, Tiny, is born, Janie’s life is filled with a sense of purpose, and with a flighty stepfather and a mother battling depression so severe that she rarely makes it out of bed, Janie quickly develops an arsenal of maternal skills.
The last third of the book documents Janie’s teenage years, and how the defective moral compass she has received from her various caregivers now has to guide her through temptations including promiscuity, drink and drugs.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a dark book so full of child abuse and neglect that it would be difficult to read, but Hudson has created a protagonist so enchanting and bright that, despite its subject matter, Tony Hogan is a truly enjoyable read.
Hudson doesn’t skate around the gory details, and the villainous Tony Hogan himself creates some particularly stomach-churning scenes. But arguably it is not the violent or sexual or abusive scenes that are the most difficult to digest, it is the chinks of light and slivers of hope that open up, only to be snatched away at the last moment. The security offered by a true friend, a social worker, a safe home, are taken away from Janie Ryan as quickly as they are found – and that is the crushing reality for kids who live with no stability.
The bond between Janie, Tiny and their Ma is truly heart-warming, and this is only heightened by the obscenities and insults and screaming matches thrown between them. These are flawed characters (there are few books brave enough to portray the realities of a struggling mother as much as this) but this makes their acts of selflessness and unconditional love even more powerful.
The charm and humour of the Scottish dialect and the vivid details of the eighties are the cherries on top of a spectacular literary sundae, worthy of not just its Guardian First Book Award nomination surely many more other accolades, too.
Recommended for: If you think there’s not enough fiction out there giving a voice to working class women, this is for you.
Other recommended reading: To my knowledge, there is nothing out there like this! Other reviewers have half-heartedly suggested some Irvine Welsh, though…