You had me at ‘hello’. Well, your book did – I’ve never encountered a more irresistible opening line than that uttered by Iris Ryan as she gave birth to our protagonist Janie. And what followed, so vividly, is this dark and grimy world of “homeless hostels an’ council estates an’ moonlit fuckin’ flits”. It is grey, chaotic and tragic yet never devoid of love and humour.
I loved getting to know Janie Ryan who, had I run into her or her ma on the bus, I probably would have misjudged. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much going for her – she is a council estate kid, not great at school, short temper, hard and rough. Yet, you can’t help but like her. I adored the quirky narrative voice of infant Janie, I bled for the little girl who bore witness to violence, addiction and scummy men, and I was inspired by the teenager who lived by her own convictions as best she could. From and early age, she loved being at the library and reading and when she "cried because none of us was as good as people in books," I cried with her.
All the Ryan women are flawed, but I guess who among us isn’t in one way or another? Of course, you wish that Janie’s mother could have given more to her children, got away from the men sooner, swallowed her pride every now and then. As she crushed the dying birds with the weight of her feet to put them out of their suffering, instructing Janie that sometimes you do things even if it hurts you more, that’s when you see who she really is. The people in the book are all complicated, bruised and scarred in their own ways, and you understand how it is possible to be both fierce and fragile at the same time.
We all know that no two lives or families look alike. This book taught me that love can also take myriad forms, or be expressed in unconventional ways. The best stories take you into someone else’s skin and allow you to feel with them, not just for them. I still ache for Janie but I’m hopeful too.
Kerry Hudson, you are a sharp, unpredictable and brilliant writer. I hope Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma comes to Australian bookshops soon. I can’t wait to see what you bring to us next.