Released: July 2014
The title of this book coupled with the photograph of a glum looking child on the cover could easily give the impression that this a dark book. Indeed its subject matter is dark. Michael Murray is an averagely happy child in an average eighties family living on a housing estate in Rothesay in the 1980’s.
Like most children Michael likes to listen to arguments at doors. Up until now the arguments have mainly been about whether Michael’s father should take advantage of the new legislation, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, and use his inheritance from his father to buy the council house they live in. Then one night everything changes and Michael’s world is turned upside down. His mother is no longer happy, his father is miserable and his grandmother seems to be the only constant thing in his life, that and the arguments he has with the child, Dirty Alice, from down the road.
The subject matter is dark, as are the effects it has on the Murray family and the whole Rothesay community eventually. The fact that the reader is more aware of the secret the family is hiding than the child is only adds to the suspense because the reader is always hoping for a positive outcome for his sake.
What stops this book from being a chore to read and turns it into something wonderful is the narrator Michael. He has a hugely engaging and endearing personality full of humour and the joy of living. Even at the darkest moments he seems to find something to laugh at or to distract himself. He hates his grandmother’s cooking, especially her rock cakes but he likes the icing off the top. He hates his parents arguing and he hates Dirty Alice but he loves football and his friend Marianne’s singing. He hates the way his parents tell him lies even though they tell him not to lie. He hates the way they make him keep secrets. But it is clear from the way he tells the story that he still loves them all and just wants to be able to make them happy again.
It’s really interesting to see Michael grow and learn that people are capable of being good and bad at the same time in a style I found reminiscent of Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. There are no gimmicks in this book to hold the attention. It doesn’t need the shifting narratives or multiple viewpoints and the story is related in a linear timeline which makes a refreshing change. I really enjoyed Michael’s style of narration. At times I found his tone of voice slightly too mature for such a young child but that is a minor criticism of a book that was otherwise flawless. And, despite the dark subject matter I found the story became a thoroughly uplifting read about how the human spirit prevails.