Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown
Five words from the blurb: family, turbulent, childhood, secrets, alcoholic
Glasshopper contains a dual narrative covering the childhood of a boy called Jake, growing up in 1980s Portsmouth, and that of his mother coming-of-age in the 1960s.
Jake’s childhood is a troubled one. His father has moved out and his mother is an alcoholic. The reasons for his mother’s alcoholism are slowly revealed over the course of the novel; as are Jake’s strength and resilience.
This is the perfect book for anyone wanting to reminisce about life in England. The tiny details about Texan bars and sherbet Flying Saucers had me smiling in recognition. The story itself was very ordinary, but Jake’s charm was hard to resist.
Unfortunately the 1960s section didn’t come alive in the same way. I’m not sure if this was because I wasn’t alive and so didn’t pick up on the little details or because they weren’t there in the first place.
The writing was reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell, so anyone who loves her books is sure to enjoy this one.
Recommended to anyone who remembers 1980s England.
Central Reservation by Will le Flemming
Five words from the blurb: rural, England, twin, ghost, grief
Central Reservation is set in rural England during the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. The central character is Holly, a teenage girl, who is followed everywhere by the ghost of her twin sister. The ghost is an unnerving presence, rather than the scary, malevolent kind that you normally find in novels and it can be seen as a metaphor for the grief that she carries around with her.
The book started off really well, with an intriguing first line:
The first few chapters were equally gripping, with a particularly vivid description of a bus crash.
Unfortunately the middle section was a bit ordinary. Events was realistically described, but the quiet study of a family’s grief did nothing but leave me feeling faintly depressed. I know a lot of people love this type of story, but I suspect that because I am lucky enough not to have lost a close member of my family it didn’t resonate with me as much.
Luckily everything picked up towards the end and the foot and mouth aspect of the book was very well done. I remember travelling home during the outbreak and seeing (and especially smelling) the pyres of dead cattle everywhere. I hadn’t come across a book that covers the subject before, but I’m sure everyone will be moved by some of the scenes in this book.
The specific Englishness of this story means that it is unlikely to have universal appeal, but if you’re looking for an emotional read this is a good choice.
Recommended to those familiar with rural England.