Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Once in a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth (3.5/5)

The back says: Andrea’s father drowns when she is five, and her pretty, music-loving young mother soon finds another man. But he has dark secrets and angry fists, and the lives of Andrea and her little sisters will never be the same again.

Their crazy childhood takes them from the gritty streets of Manchester to a fresh life in Canada, and yanks them back again. Through their adventures and nightmares, the sisters stick together. Real life might feel like a horror film, but with love, daring, books and music, they make their own happier worlds.

I say: I read this in one sitting because I was desperate for a happy ending. The one thing that I really, really have a hard time reading about is abuse, especially against children. I deliberately steer clear of such books as they upset me too much. It’s bad enough knowing that there’s evil out there without bringing it in to my life.

And for that reason, a part of me sort of wishes I hadn’t read this.

The first sentence (which is what usually how I decide whether or not I really want to read a book) is:

“My father drowned when I was five years old.”

The finality of that one sentence unfolds an incredibly sad and heartbreaking story; a surprisingly enraging and exhausting story; and ultimately a wholly captivating and inspirational story. I’m in awe of Angela for having so much strength and courage to, not just do and say the things she did, but also for writing about them. At one point she talks about going to the cinema for the first time and seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street and realising that

“Terror was something you put yourself through for fun, rather than something dangerous and dirty that you swept under the carpet at home.” p. 253

The best part about this was when Angela was describing her love for reading, and what an escape that gave her. There are so many ups and downs in this story, and I found myself hating Angela’s mother, Lorraine, one minute, and then sympathising with her the next. I afforded myself the luxury of judging her based on life from Angela’s perspective, and my own naiveté, but then she said this to her daughter:

“You’ll never know how it feels to be trapped. Truly, utterly trapped. Not just by pissing circumstances. […] But buried a-stinking-live. Locked inside yourself.” p. 288

And that really shut me up.

Aside: I find it hard putting a grade someone’s memoirs, because even though I’m not grading their lives, it still kind of feels that way, and that makes me a tad uncomfortable.

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