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Once in a House on Fire

Ashworth, Andrea

1,306 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0330491881 / ISBN 13: 9780330491884
Published by Picador, London, 1999
Used Condition: Very Good Soft cover
From Johnny's Used Books (Portland, OR, U.S.A.)

AbeBooks Seller Since November 12, 2001

Quantity Available: 1

About this Item

Very Good. No Jacket 12mo-over 6¾"-7¾" tall. Price sticker. Light shelf wear. Solid copy with clean pages. Bookseller Inventory # 029827

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Once in a House on Fire

Publisher: Picador, London

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Mass Market Paperback

Book Condition:Very Good

Dust Jacket Condition: No Jacket

Edition: 2nd Printing.

Book Type: Book

About this title


Andrea Ashworth's father died when she was five leaving her, her three-year-old sister and mother to fend for themselves. A succession of stepfathers, some violent and an itinerant life of poverty were her lot but reading was her escape route out of misery.


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 Marquis

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