Book choice for February 2008

Our Kid [suggested by Louisa Morgan]

front cover

It was on a Sunday night in 1928 that Billy Hopkins made his first appearance.  Billy's tenement home on the outskirts of Manchester would be considered a slum today, but he lived there happily with his large Catholic family, hatching money-making schemes with his friends.  This book recalls an upbringing and an environment now vanished.

About the Author (in his own words)

I was born in 1928 in Collyhurst, Manchester (not a stone's throw from Les Dawson's stalking ground, also the birthplace of John Thaw, the actor.  There must be something in the water).  I attended St William's Infant School and St. Chad's Elementary School.  I passed the "scholarship" in 1939 and went to Xaverian College, (a grammar school), Victoria Park, Manchester.

In 1941, I was evacuated with the rest of the school to Blackpool where I had some pretty bizarre experiences, I can tell you.  At the age of fifteen, whilst still at school, I worked as a shoe-shine boy at the American Red Cross in St. Anne's Square, Manchester where I earned fabulous sums of money in tips from the American doughboys who gave me my first detailed sex education.  I left school in 1944 and went to work at the then Manchester Guardian as copy boy.  I had hopes of becoming their star reporter but when I saw that without an Oxbridge education there were few prospects, I moved on to become a pen-pushing clerk in the Inland Revenue.  The hum-drum routine was driving me slowly mad and so before this could happen, I decided to become a teacher and went to the College of St Mark & St John, Chelsea (1945-47).

I took up my first teaching post at a Secondary Modern school in Manchester in 1947.  I was put in charge of the top class - I was 19 and my pupils aged 14/15 and they bitterly resented having to stay on an extra year.  They gave me a hard time but my Collyhurst training had taught me a trick or two and I finally brought them round to their senses.

[Taken from the author's (home-grown) website, where there's a deal more of this].  What? No Wikipedia entry?


Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can now decide whether to bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected).  This month, Louisa brought two books, the other one being:

A Spot of Bother

A Spot of Bother

George Hall is an unobtrusive man.  A little distant, perhaps, a little cautious, not quite at ease with the emotional demands of fatherhood or manly bonhomie.  He does not understand the modern obsession with talking about everything.  "The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely."  Some things in life, however, cannot be ignored.

At sixty-one, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels, and listening to a bit of light jazz.  Then his tempestuous daughter, Katie, announces that she is getting remarried, to the deeply inappropriate Ray.  Her family is not pleased - as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has "strangler's hands."  Katie can't decide if she loves Ray or loves the wonderful way he has with her son, Jacob; and her mother, Jean, is a bit put out by all the planning and arguing the wedding has occasioned, which get in the way of her quite fulfilling late-life affair with one of her husband's ex-colleagues.  And the tidy and pleasant life Jamie has created crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded nuptials.

Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind.

The way these damaged people fall apart - and come together - as a family is the true subject of Haddon's disturbing yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.

A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon's unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Here the madness - literally - of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon's crackling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.

If finding a decent synopsis of this book is not as simple as usual, finding a review that agrees with any other review of it is even harder.  For anyone interested, the following links provide a start:
The Guardian Review
The book's home page (includes a synopsis, but since it's a tediously clever flash site I couldn't reproduce it here)
Metacritic (26 very short reviews)
Amazon (98 reviews)

About the Author

Mark Haddon is the author of the international bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year award.  In addition to the recently published The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has also written and illustrated numerous children's books and received several awards for his television screenplays.  He has a website.


Previous Months' Book Choices

January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006