Something strange happened. I saw Lily’s face, heard her voice, and as the train carried me towards what I was convinced would be a brilliant future, hot tears began to flow. I thought of my mother and cried. (This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood, Alan Johnson, 2013)
Winner of the 2014 Orwell Prize, This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood by the former Home Secretary and Labour MP, Alan Johnson, is, in part, a tribute to the two special women in his life: his mother, Lily and his sister, Linda.
Set in North Kensington (Notting Hill), West London on Southam Street and after the second world war, Johnson revisits the horrendous poverty and squalid conditions into which he and his sister were born. His story provides a rollercoaster of emotions from watching the volatile relationship between his father and mother to his love of trips to Loftus Road to cheer on his beloved Queens Park Rangers FC as well as having to confront issues of race, class and other social injustices, which perhaps, begun to shape the ideals he would later go on to have as a politician.
An instant page turner and hugely engrossing read, Johnson writes beautifully, always saying it as it is and as it was. The reader gets a sense of a child’s voice telling the story and with every trial and tribulation Johnson and his family must face, you cannot but will this boy on.
The memoir can draw very similar comparisons to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (1996) which also pays tribute to a mother.
Johnson’s story is a personal testament of triumph over adversity. The reader will laugh, cry, be shocked and inspired. This memoir deservedly receives all its plaudits, praise and awards and is rightfully recognised as one of the best and most heartfelt memoirs in recent times. Not only is Johnson a man for the people but he is also one of the most endearing personalities to have not been Prime Minister of his country. It is with eager anticipation we await his follow up memoir should it match up to this first classic.
© Copyright 2014, Darell J Philip