Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Chatto & Windus (5 July 2012)
When Janie Ryan is born, she’s just the latest in a long line of Ryan women, Aberdeen fishwives to the marrow, always ready to fight. Her violet-eyed Grandma had predicted she’d be sly, while blowing Benson and Hedges smoke rings over her Ma’s swollen belly. In the hospital, her family approached her suspiciously, so close she could smell whether they’d had booze or food for breakfast. It was mostly booze.
Tony Hogan tells the story of a Scottish childhood of filthy council flats and B&Bs, screeching women, feckless men, fags and booze and drugs, the dole queue and bread and marge sandwiches. It is also the story of an irresistible, irrepressible heroine, a dysfunctional family you can’t help but adore, the absurdities of the eighties and the fierce bonds that tie people together no matter what. Told in an arrestingly original — and cry-out-loud funny — voice, it launches itself headlong into the middle of one of life’s great fights, between the pull of the past and the freedom of the future. And Janie Ryan, born and bred for combat, is ready to win.
Tony Hogan begins with Janie’s birth and what the family think she might grow up to be. The reader is introduced to her extended family. Janie’s granny is not there to bring them home from the hospital – she’s gone out to play bingo – and when they get home, there’s a note left on Iris’ (her mother’s) bed:
“Well, my wee one, Granny wants us tae run out for some milk an’ twenty Benson & Hedges. Welcome fuckin’ home.”
It’s not long before Iris argues with her mother and leaves home. She goes to the Grafton Women’s Shelter and so begins the constant moving from place to place where she is either running from an abusive relationship or following a man – and trying to survive.
A young mother and haunted by depression, there are a succession of ‘uncles’ until Tony Hogan comes onto the scene. This abusive relationship eventually results in Janie being taken away by social services and an injunction against Tony. At the home for three weeks, the positive memories Janie has here are remembered by her for a long time. When Janie leaves the home, they move to a different estate ‘for families’. It’s after this that Iris and Janie leave for London, hoping to find Janie’s father. They end up in Canterbury in a couple of different B & B’s. There are a couple more moves until they end up in Great Yarmouth.
Tony Hogan is narrated in the first person, from Janie’s point of view. Although I found a baby narrating a bit strange, the author capture’s a child’s perspective really well and it’s a smooth transition to teen.
The reader is taken on a very poignant journey … there are no holds barred. We experience high rise flats and tenements and the culture that goes with it. We live through some very traumatic events all the way through the story. The squalor, the alcohol, the drugs, death, abuse, rape and moonlight flits from place to place. In Great Yarmouth (aged 14) it is here that Janie’s experiences are choices she makes. These choices are a reflection of how the past and present influences her and are debilitating. Janie sums up her family on page 162:
“We were a glass family, she was a glass ma and I needed to wrap us up, handle her gently.”
Even though Tony Hogan is quite a dark read, there is hope at the end for the one final choice we get to see Janie make in London. I would hope that Janie continues to make choices that see her reach her dreams … but I think her lack of trust in the universe and herself and her low expectations may well turn out to be choices that keep her running down the same old road. Maybe she will break the pattern …
If you are not offended by swearing and are ready to be taken out of your comfort zone, then you might want to consider adding Tony Hogan to your book shelf. If you’re unsure, then why not lend a copy from your library!
I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.