"Bugger this for a lark," our mum said. "I’ve
Yes. This is satisfactory. It is printed in my best hand, in my
orange Junior School exercise book. I am pleased.
It is my turn to read out to the class.
If only all the school’s fourteen children weren’t in this
I tighten my cross-legged position so that my heels lever me,
straight-backed, higher slightly than the others, defiant. The
classroom feels as cold to me as a disused, falling down barn.
I close the exercise book in my lap and press my hands flat over
the title: My Summer Holiday.
Josie Barnard’s first novel feels deeply autobiographical, and
by all accounts it is. Allie is eleven when her mother walks out
on her husband and three children. She is never to reappear in
the book, apart from the odd postcard, or Christmas present. The
four of them rattle around in a remote house in Yorkshire trying
to feed themselves on burnt offerings, occasionally resulting
in being taken to the famed Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip shop.
Their father’s ineptitude, emotionally and domestically, is rendered
with an honesty and cool empathy that characterises the tone of
this accomplished book
Allie is a loner. She hides, as the title suggests, behind a pulled
down fringe and heavy glasses, behind a pokerface. Her school
career is one of odd-ball cleverness, her emotional landscape
as often as not about finding ways to torture her siblings, and
drive away the odd girlfriend her father manages to find. Childhood
as it really is. Through adolescence Allie’s defences work perfectly,
but being a clever, truculent, self-possessed eleven year old
with a will of iron is one thing. Being a vulnerable kid, then
pubertal, then adolescent, then adult, without the ability to
let anyone near you is another.
Josie Barnard has an original, quirky voice. This is a small story,
as many autobiographical first novels are – but it’s perfectly
formed. The pain of a ruptured family, the banality of everyday
struggles, and at the centre a real person who illuminates the
narrative with wit, black humour and a certain skewed romanticism.