Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hudson

If any book last year was talked about because of its title then it would be ‘Tony Hogan Bought me and Ice Cream Float Before he Stole my Ma’, the title of Kerry Hudson’s debut novel. There was no question that the title of the book was a discussion point, which is always a good thing in a market that is getting tougher especially for new authors, yet it was also a risk because people either thought it was a brilliant idea or were completely put off buy it. I have to admit I was in the latter camp, until I read the book that is.

Chatto & Windus, paperback, 2012, fiction, 266 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Janie is born into the long line of Ryan women. A line of women who on the outside simply seem like loud, abrasive, confrontational wasters by onlookers yet underneath all the front, or anger, they are really just rather mixed up. When Janie is born her grandmother would rather be at the bingo gossiping and getting drunk than coming and picking her daughter and granddaughter up. Within hours of being ‘home’ World War Three is raging through the Ryan household and Janie and her Ma end up on the streets in the rain with nowhere to live. Life is a bit grim and really it doesn’t seem to get better, especially when Tony Hogan, of the exceptionally long title, turns up.

No sooner are Janie and her Ma (she is called Ma so much you forget she has a name) settled into some accommodation by social services and the housing association, than her mother meets local hard man/drug dealer/abuser Tony Hogan and things spiral out of control and history just keeps on repeating itself, even when Janie and her Ma try and leave Scotland for places anew. There is hope in there somewhere but I won’t go into too much detail of that for fear of spoiling the book.

“I didn’t tell her that that face meant I was scared, scared for Frankie and scared for her and us even more. We were a glass family, she was a glass ma and I needed to wrap us up, handle her gently.”

I loved ‘Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Before He Stole my Ma’ (which will henceforth be known as ‘Tony Hogan…’) partly as I think it is an incredibly brave, honest and confronting – yet also very funny in parts – novel that looks at the part of society many people write off or brush under the carpet. Those people on the dole, or who find themselves living on benefits, who get sneered at and slated in the press as ‘wasters’ and looks at the people behind that label. Okay, some of the people, like Tony Hogan himself, are wasters but what about the others? What about those people who find themselves victims of circumstance who want to make a better life? What about either of these camps children, where is the hope for them? That is what ‘Tony Hogan…’ looks at, rather bluntly, and even though the book itself is set in the 80’s and 90’s its incredibly relevant considering the climates of finance, benefits and employment in the UK, and elsewhere, at the moment.

“Davey and Leanne’s parents liked a drink. That’s what Ma said when I asked her why they sometimes couldn’t walk. It was true; whether I called for Leanne morning or night there would be a sweating can of lager and a plastic bottle of cider on the table and her ma and da would be lounging on the sofa watching the one channel they could with a bent coat hanger.
Ma called them Jack Spratt and his wife because Leanne’s da was so skinny you could see his bones and her ma’s big arse spilled over the sofa’s edge. They both had blurry sea-green tattoos up their arms and if you stared long enough you could make out the dragons and lions and words crawling up their skin and under their T-shirt sleeves. The only thing I ever heard Leanne’s da say was, ‘Leanne love, fix us a snakebite.’”

I also loved all the things that you should love in a good book. Kerry Hudson is a wonderful writer; she can break your heart and make you laugh in a sentence or two. Her characters, whether you like them or not – and sometimes you won’t be sure which it is, are vivid, fully formed with warts and all, and walk of the page. The themes in the book are thought provoking, as I have mentioned, and you will be thinking about Janie long after you have left the book. I was slightly concerned at the start that the voice might bother me, not the Scottish dialect which is used on occasion, as Janie narrates the book from birth. This could have really annoyed me, with another author I might have been questioned the fact a child wouldn’t understand it all, yet interestingly with Hudson at the helm I went with it and really loved the narrative voice.

On a personal level ‘Tony Hogan…’ also really chimed with me, which of course made me love it all the more – though if this was a professional review I would have to cut all this out completely, as its not let me waffle on further. I too was the only child of young single mother in the 1980’s, whilst my father wasn’t a random American and we didn’t get chucked out of the family home – my mother took me with her to university actually, I do remember moving around a lot, never being poor but things being tough (I didn’t get the latest ‘trendy’ shoes – Dr Martens or Kickers, remember them – until after everyone had moved onto the next ones and once I think we had cereals  with water as we couldn’t afford milk, it was just once – and then I had a phase of pouring Ribena all over my dinner, anyway) and I, like Janie, remember loosing myself in the world of libraries and books. Unlike Janie I was more a Spice Girls fan than an Oasis one, though I did see the latter at Knebworth, get me. Also unlike Janie I always felt I was wanted and loved and the fact Janie questions, and has to question, that was another thing that I found so moving and so deftly done in this book. I wanted to be her best friend and Kerry Hudson’s too because of the world and people she had created.

“Running to sit at the little plastic chairs I felt the library’s warm, still air push inside me to slow my thumping heart and the second-hand-shop smell snake up my nostrils, winding itself snug around my insides. When I opened the books, and I could open as many as I liked because it cost us nothing, the pictures lay on my eyes like oil on water and the dancing letters settled on my tongue with the smell and the taste of black-jack sweeties. Whilst Ma bit at her lips, ripped at her cuticles and read old magazines, I was learning how stories made me feel safe.”

You may have hazarded a guess that ‘Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before he Stole me Ma’ was one of my favourite reads of last year and you would be right. It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles. I can’t wait to see what Hudson writes next. Highly, highly, highly recommended reading!

After that rave review you may be wondering why I didn’t have this as one of my books of 2012, as it clearly was, yet even though this was the case so were all the shortlisted books for the Green Carnation last year (the book was also shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award and I have fingers crossed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction) and it seemed a bit odd to just make up a list of them when you already have one, if you know what I mean? Anyway, who else has read this book and what did you think? What are your thoughts on the title? Are there any books you’ve picked up because of a quirky title or avoided because of it and did the book match up?

21 Comments

Filed under Books of 2012, Chatto & Windus, Kerry Hudson, Review

21 responses to “Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hudson

  1. novelinsights

    This does sound very appropriate subject matter in the current climate. Funnily enough – Moranthology has a chapter which chimes with this thoughtful post quite spookily, and also talks about how libraries amazing resources for children whose parents have little money. Added to my wishlist!

    • It is a very ‘current’ book, even though I don’t think that was intentional at the time, it is also just a bloody good read. I think you would like it.

      You have tempted me too much today with Caitlin Moran. I have pulled her off my shelves!

  2. I shall add it to my wish list too. I quite like quirky titles, but I do expect the book to live up up to them… this one sounds as if it does.

    • It does, well it does if you like the title and if you down it will bowl you over anyway, ha. I think you will like this one, I feel quite confident you will actually.

      Gulp!

  3. I loved this book, I thought it was a superb debut novel and loved how the author portrayed Janey and how she survived the hard upbrining and found an escape through books too. Brilliant title too.

    • I loved the aspect of books in the, erm, book and the love of them and the library wonderful too Lindsay. It showed how important libraries were and remain so today. People should read this book for that alone, though of course there are lots of other wonderful aspects.

  4. naomifrisby

    I absolutely loved this book – it made my end of year list. Totally agree with what you said about it being grim but full of humour and ultimately, hope. It felt very real – I’ve taught kids like Janie – and seemed perfectly timed considering the current economic climate/government. I too can’t wait to see what Kerry Hudson does next.

    • I think had it not had the humour, and the hope is kind of up in the air, then this book would have just been too much – even for me who likes a dark book. The fact it had the humour in it made it all the more real. We do laugh when things are really crap don’t we?

      Thank you for commenting Naomi!

  5. Delyn

    I, too, like quirky titles so that wouldn’t put me off. However, I did begin to wonder if it would ne my kind of book but, the further I read, I can well imagine it might be. So, once again, Simon, you have added to my TBR list. Well don!

    • Hahaha thank you. A pleasure to add such a wonderful book (I hope you think so too) to someone’s wishlist, library reservations or TBR! Lovely to see how many people like a quirky title too.

  6. quirky title but not sure it is really one for me but do love the title ,all the best stu

  7. Sharkell

    Great review! This reminds me of two books that I have recently read – Eventide by Kent Haruf (which is a sequel to Plainsong) and Love Like Hate Adore by Deidre Purcell. Yet another to add to my wishlist. BTW, I’ve just picked up Diving Belles from my library and I’m in the middle of The House of Mirth.

    • How does this remind you of those? I’m just asking as if they are similar I might like to give them a read too. Let me know!

      • sharkell

        One of the story threads in Eventide is about a family that is living on the wrong side of the poverty line. The parents are pretty hopeless and neglectful but Kent Haruf manages to make you oscillate between caring for the family and feeling frustrated by them. Love Like Hate Adore is about an Irish woman who’s mother was similar to the mother you have described in Tony Hogan and her story of raising her newborn brother on her own from the age of 17. I think you would like both books but if you are going to read the Haruf, I recommend you read Plainsong first as Eventide follows on with many of the characters in Plainsong (and it is a wonderful book, too). Kimbofo from Reading Matters has recently reviewed Plainsong and gave it 5 stars.

      • Ooh thank you for getting back to me. They sound right up my street. I shall have to try and get hold of them on your recommendation.

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  11. mcresswell

    I’d probably never have ordinarily read this I don’t think – kitchen sink drama doesn’t appeal to me – but the buzz and various awards nominations, and the great title, swayed me – I bought it this weekend and, appropriately, read it in train stations and coaches. Absolutely loved it – devoured it, bleary-eyed into the late hours on the way home on the coach.

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