This is a literally stunning narrative. It rings so true and is so close to the bone of life's terrors that one reads on with a sense of dread. The unnamed narrator, the mother, is taking her two boys, Stan and Kevin, to the seaside for a holiday, she's packed their sports-bags, though she can't carry anything because of a recent dislocation of her shoulder. The reader is forced to piece together the background to this story from such clues. Is she fleeing some kind of attack? No father is mentioned, the children never mention one but the mother seems to have a history of medication, all of which she has left behind for this trip to the sea. Quite early, I would say from the initial bus journey and arrival at the seaside, in this very short (111pp) novella, that one senses a growing darkness around the future for these vulnerable children and their increasingly vulnerable mother.
The writing is superbly natural throughout, with the two boys given distinct personalities. Stan, the elder boy is around nine - he is watchful, careful with his mother, but there is a moment on the beach where, looking back, one senses his estrangement, when something of his mother's desperation is given expression by this child. Kevin is the needy one, the baby, five or six years-old, forced, perhaps to behave badly, or younger than he is, in order to gain attention.
The mother has very little money with her, and that in small denominations, which causes her problems with a café proprietor. The mood of the novel is set by the constant rain, the muddy beach, the hot greasy chips, which are all she can afford for the children to eat. She never eats herself, however, spending everything on the boys, the last of their meagre collection of coins on rides at the funfair, and then they walk back to their hotel. There is a final scene. This is one of the darkest and most devastating books I have ever read.