Set in grim 1970s Manchester, "Once in a House on Fire" tells the true story of three sisters and their mother, a close-knit and loving family forced to battle with poverty, abuse and the effects of depression. What makes Ashworth's memoir truly astounding is that her tale of hardship is so beautifully written, so compellingly told, so funny and endearing. Ultimately this is one of the most life-affirming stories around; a bright and sympathetic book that should be read by everyone. "This is a brilliant book. Brilliantly written, brilliantly thought, brilliantly remembered...Ashworth has written an extraordinary memoir; the only pity is that she had to live it to make it" - "Scotsman."
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In her engrossing memoir, Once in a House on Fire, Andrea Ashworth recalls growing up poor in a violent English household during the 1970s and 1980s. Ashworth's father drowned when she was just 5. Her mother then married a man who beat her frequently and made life miserable for the whole family. When Ashworth's mother finally got rid of him, she married a small-time criminal who also soon became violent. Throughout her childhood, the author struggled to protect her little sisters from their stepfathers and kept the family going when their mother could not function because of her injuries, depressions, and blinding headaches. Ashworth and her family moved around quite a bit, often living in other people's houses, sleeping in cots or on floors. They all suffered from the emotional and economic instability of their situation. Ashworth recalls the sunglasses her mother wore through cloudy dark English winters to conceal her bruised eyes. She also remembers sneaking out of the house one day to run through a rich neighborhood, where she paused occasionally to open the mailboxes of the wealthy and smell their comfort and safety.
Although Ashworth's story is all about loneliness and love gone wrong, the surprising thing is that this book is not always terribly sad-- there are interludes when the children have fun and in those sunny moments it seems probable that all of them, especially Andrea, will survive more or less intact. Ashworth recalls the details of her childhood vividly, in brief scenes. In one of those scenes, two sisters race down a cobbled street at breakneck speed. Each of them has one roller skate on--they are sharing. Ashworth's writing is crisp, her dialogue right to the point. This book is reminiscent of Frank Conroy's Stop-Time and Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, both classic memoirs of adolescence. --Jill MarquisAbout the Author:
Andrea Ashworth was born in Manchester in 1969. She is a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. Once in a House on Fire was her first book and a personal memoir
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