Sometimes you come across a book that comes close to being journey changing or life altering. This is one of them. I’ve talked about Kerry before in a blog piece I wrote ages ago. I wrote about how good she is at walking the walk as well as talking the talk when it comes to helping other less advantaged writers. You can read the blog piece here. So it’s no real surprise that I thought I was going to enjoy her new book. ‘Enjoy’ feels like the wrong word to use in this instance as the book is actually quite harrowing in places and certainly sad. It charts Kerry’s journey from a life of poverty to a place of self worth, of acceptance and achievement. I’m making it sound like one of those tear jerkers that are always in bargain buckets, but it really isn’t. This is a story of acknowledgement of pain, of suffering, but it’s not a story of defeat, it’s a story of strength. And true to form Kerry uses her own story to highlight the utter injustice of the society, the way we are conditioned away from a compassionate approach towards those living in poverty, and instead pushed towards judging them, blaming them for the circumstances that continued cycles of pain and poverty create.
When I say I enjoyed the book, I mean I related to it, and it made me angry. But also what makes it enjoyable is the absolute quality of the writing. Kerry has a measured, observational tone which holds a great deal of emotion, quietly. She is witty, sometimes blunt, sometimes angry, but never anything less than meticulous in the nuts and bolts of the writing: the language choice, pace and deliverance, the ordering of the memoir, the decisions on what should stay and what should go. It’s a beautifully crafted book which was genuinely a pleasure to read. I gobbled it up over three days and whilst I would love to join in with the wave of folk who are kindly giving their copies to other readers who might not be able to afford to buy it, I can’t do that because I want to return to it. More than that, I want it on my bookshelf as an emblem of what can be achieved.
I am working class, but I’m not from a background of poverty. We were a poor-ish family; we had second hand toys, hand me down clothes, we rode in cars that came from scrap heaps and we ate own brand stuff. My dad taught us the value of what other people threw away in skips. We went without stuff. And if we wanted stuff we made it. My parents made things for us. But we owned our own house, we had a mum and a dad, we ate three meals a day of home cooked food and my parents both worked. They had no drug or alcohol issues, we attended school and we lived in the same place until we all left home. We were not taken in to care, though we knew of people that were. We were clean and fed and we made it into adulthood, all three of us. But still, there was so much that I related to in this book. A lot of what I related to was the working class stuff; a lot of feeling like a sore thumb in a school in which most pupils were very middle class, the way a lot of the teachers looked down on us, the way that aspirations were not for the likes of us, which has always made higher learning something of a test of nerves for me, in fact I think it certainly influenced the imposer syndrome which ruined so much of my last PhD attempt. But also there were small things I could relate to, the things that have been carried into adulthood; like the act that I put on when I am in professional mode, the humour which I use as a defence, the sting of having accent picked on and more, much more personal stuff around alcohol and sexual experiences, the need to belong, the constant search for acceptance.
I hope this book makes its way into prisons and schools, I hope that it makes it into domestic abuse refuges, but more than that I hope it makes it into Westminster and into the hands of the politicians who are running the country who are supposed to represent us, but simply cannot imagine the circumstances in which we are grown. These people who make such flippant remarks about historic child sex abuse cases, disability, austerity, social housing, the NHS etc etc etc these people who can’t possibly comprehend the knife edge of the poverty line that a good proportion of the country live on, or the utter life f**k that trauma is, that parental neglect is.
I should say, because I don’t want to end on a note of anger, that this book is uplifting. I want to keep it on my bookshelf to inspire me, and to remind me that there are people out there that are putting their money where their mouth is and doing the sort of things to help others that make a huge difference. One of those things is being visible, telling the truth, being honest and opening their hearts for the public to pick over. I am so grateful that Kerry Hudson has done this.