on 24 June 2013
Having read all of Graham Joyce's novels I find it hard to credit that his books are never, ever 'samey'. Instead each one is imbued with a different emotional aftertaste and with 'The Year of the Ladybird' he excels once again in capturing those balmy days of that long hot summer.
Anyone who remembers the summer of 1976, recalls that seemingly endless time when each day started and ended with cloudless skies, rocketing temperatures, drought warnings and hosepipe bans. It was a magical year and Graham Joyce captures the essence of it in this work, together with sinister overtones of forgotten memories, a recession and the National Front.
As usual his descriptive prose is sublime and his characterisation unparalleled. The protagonist is a student working in a holiday camp in Skegness, despite his mother and stepfather's grave misgivings. As always in a Graham Joyce book, nothing is quite as it seems however, who is the man in the blue suit carrying a length of rope and who is the small boy with him? The front cover proclaims 'The Year of the Ladybird' - A Ghost Story, it is all that and much, much more.
on 4 February 2014
David Barwise is a 19 year old student who, against the better wishes of his Mum and step-dad, gets a summer job as a greencoat on a holiday camp in Skegness. Set against the scorching summer of 1976 - and the subsequent ladybird invasion - David is led into two love affairs, one with the wife of an apparent monster, one with a lovely Yorkshire lass, as he tries to find his feet amongst the staff of the camp - some theatrical, some racist, some thuggish and some genuinely nice - and the ever present punters, adults and child alike. He is not only there to escape from home, he’s also trying to find details about his long-since-dead father, the only photograph of whom shows him on a Skegness beach. And then, in between getting caught up in the rise of the National Front, he begins to see ghosts on the beach and on the camp, of a suited man and his young charge. This is a glorious novel, full of wit and invention (and a nice line in dry humour) that is told is a deceptively simple style. Perfectly capturing both the 1976 summer and the start of the slow decline of the east coast seaside resort, this crackles with energy and pathos. The characterisation - David narrates the story - is pitch perfect, often delivered with the lightest of touches - Pinky and the way he dresses, Tony and his exuberance, Colin and his chilling demeanour - but always spot on and always human, with none of the characters ever behaving in a way that seems out of place. David is first drawn into the web of Colin, a thuggish and boorish man, and his wife Terri, who sings like an angel but is apparently abused into submission at home. Attracted to her, the relationship between him and his older, secret lover, is fantastically played with neither David or the reader quite sure of what’s going on. A surer, safer bet is Nikki, a beautiful half-caste dancer, painfully aware of her own shortcomings (which aren’t really, to David or the reader) and it’s this relationship that we want to see work, the coupling that makes this the perfect coming-of-age novel. Because that’s what this is, at the end of the day. It’s a social and political observation - the holiday camp, the members of the National Front and what it’ll mean to people like Nikki (and how she reacts, when she realises David has been duped into attending a meeting, a stigma that remains with him for the bulk of the novel) - but it’s also about spreading your wings, finding love (the first erotic interlude, with David and Nikki, is wonderfully erotic whilst being almost mundane) and loss and setting out onto the path of adulthood. There are supernatural elements - and the denouement of that particular plot strand is obvious but also heartbreakingly beautiful - but this isn’t a supernatural novel, it’s not a horror novel, it is instead a perfect drama about a young man, finding his way in 1970s Britain. It speaks to me on a couple of levels, in that I love coming-of-age stories and the east coast seaside (and follows my reading of the similarly themed (in terms of nostalgia and love) “Joyland”), but also because I was seven in 1976 and my family holidayed in Ingoldmells, a few miles north of Skegness and it’s a town that I still visit on occasion today. A truly beautiful work of art (that had me in tears towards the end), populated with characters that I grew to love (and I so desperately want to know that the central love story carried on beyond the seventies), this is an incredible read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
on 21 June 2013
Graham Joyce has yet again taken a seemingly ordinary story and sprinkled it with his special brand of magic. Set in the hot summer of 1976, it tells the story of a young student working the summer in a Skegness holiday camp. Joyce beautifully evokes not only the feel of that long hot summer but also the tribulations and dilemmas of the youthful protagonist. In typical Joyce style, things aren't all they seem, encounters with damsels in distress and The National Front are only the tip of the iceberg. If you are already a fan of the authornthen you certainly won't be disappointed, if you are new to his work then welcome to the wonderful world of Graham Joyce.
The Year of the Ladybird is a graceful, highly descriptive and beautifully written journey into self discovery.
Graham Joyce is asking the question 'what happens when the past reaches out to touch the present?' and does it in a way the reader keeps turning the pages to find out more. He also does an excellent job of blurring the lines between fact and fiction which adds a surreal, nightmare quality to his writing.
The location of the plot is Skegness and the era 1976. The times are well captured with the authentic atmosphere adding a sense of texture and depth to the novel.
1976 was a particularly rough summer in terms of the scorching hot temperatures and lack of water in many areas. The combustible setting of hot and dry provides something of a clue as to the combustible nature of the plot as it begins to unfold.
Into the mix arrives a young man, fresh from his studies, looking for a summer job in one of the run down holiday parks. He's a man with secrets buried away in his past, much of which he's unaware of, and as he begins his new job it's just a matter of time before the skeletons begin to appear from out of his past and the plot takes off at pace.
Add some seriously nasty political factions, with extreme views, the building temperature, the decaying holiday park and a young man on the road towards a discovery that will rock him to the core and you're only just peeling away some of the layers.
I thoroughly enjoyed the read, quick and easy to read, with plenty of tension, shadow and shade and a novel I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys a darker, surreal mystery with some lighter horror elements.
on 23 April 2014
I read the book Some Kind of Fairytail earlier this year and loved how the book flowed, the characters felt real even though the story was based around a magical setting, so I couldn't wait to get into this one.
In The Year of the Ladybird, even though the front cover states it is a ghost story, that is not what carries this novel along. In fact it didn't really need the ghost part in it at all to make it a great read.
The 1970's seems to be a time that is forgotten in modern literature, so it was nice to read something that for me actually modelled the society we live in today. The social side of racism, sexism and the end of an era for the traditional working class way of life was entwined well within the story. The tension between the characters was so intense in some areas my heart was beating with anticipation of what would follow and it had nothing to do with the ghosts.
Mr Joyce makes his characters interesting and that is what makes his stories work, you believe you are reading an account of someones past actions rather than the way in a lot of novels, life is just too easy and everything falls into place, this book has grit. At a number of points along the way I wanted to tell the main character how much of a fool he was and it is rare that I feel enough for a protagonist to care how they get on during the story.
I am now on the look out for the back catalogue of this author with anticipation.
on 23 July 2013
This is assured storytelling from author Graham Joyce. With perfect placing and setting, this is an authentic look at the attitudes and the people of Britain, circa 1976.
All of the characters are convincing, with their personal agendas, flaws and demons. Through the central character of David, the microscope is put up to everyone and everything.
The seemingly innocent setting of the holiday camp hides something sinister and unsettling...or is it just David's imagination? Joyce expertly builds the tension and intrigue, as he carefully removes each layer.
I enjoyed this not just because of its writing; it is also a true time capsule of a forgotten yet surprisingly recent era of our history. There is a real sense of impending doom approaching: not just the perceived direction the country is taking, but also the events affecting David at the camp.
I found the novel gripping, disturbing and surprising. There is also a lot of humour and excellent dialogue, so it's not all doom and gloom.
With its strong visuals, compulsive mystery and high drama I heartily recommend this. The Year of the Ladybird is much more than a ghost story.
on 1 July 2014
A wonderful portrait of the long hot summer of '76 for sure but a 'Ghost Story'? Perhaps not, or at least only in the way that we are all haunted by our 'ghosts' from the past and in so much as the past has a remarkable way of catching up with each of us. Either way, this is an exceptional and remarkable book well up to the standard set, some time ago now, by the repeatedly outstanding Graham Joyce. The plot crackles with tension on so many levels just as the scorched English landscape crackled back then - approaching forty years ago now. Whether it be the mysterious semi-supernatural aspect, the 'coming of age' element or the all too disturbing account of the manipulative tendencies of the odious National Front, Joyce writes with a hand that is as accurate and knowledgeable as it is evocative. Whether, as he concludes, 'the future will be what we choose it to be, just so long as we carefully engineer the present', remains to be seen. As for the past moving 'like sand under your feet', that surely is true.
Everyone who lived through the heat-wave of 1976 has their own memories of those months and `The Year of the Ladybird' brought back mine. Graham Joyce's writing creates such a clear sense of time and place that I was taken back to the near madness of those few months. Coincidentally I was actually living close to Charnwood Forest at the time, the setting for `Fairy Tale'. Living in the Midlands mean that I didn't experience the plague of ladybirds to the same extent as David but I definitely remember it.
David leaves home and goes to work in a holiday camp in Skegness for the season, it is the time when the traditional holiday camp is dying out. For some reason his parents are against him going there, but he is drawn to that seaside resort by a photograph he once found. Something obviously happened in Skegness that they don't want him to know, but what?
Once there he starts to see a strange man in a suit with a young boy, are they real, ghosts or in his head? Joyce also creates a wonderful cast of characters to work at the holiday camp, where they all have some scam going, just like the sitcom `Hi-De-Hi, but the scams don't come across as being funny in the same way, probably because Joyce's characters are not as likeable.
If you are looking at `The Year of the Ladybird' after reading `Some Kind of Fairy Tale' be warned, this is completely different. It is called a ghost story but the ghost element is very subtle. It is a coming of age story, education is over and life about to begin for David but he can't really begin his life until he has exorcised the demon and discovered the truth about Skegness and his past.
I am a big fan of Graham Joyce and am puzzled as to why he hasn't really broken through, he tells wonderful stories and tells them very well, he has won fantasy awards but many people won't consider his books to be `fantasy' he is really closer to the magical realism of Haruki Murakami, so if you like his books then you really should give Graham Joyce a try. I have recommended Joyce to a large number of people and so far none of them have been disappointed.
on 17 July 2013
THE YEAR OF THE LADYBIRDS has not been published yet in the United States. However, my son and I each have copies. Why? This is a Graham Joyce book and we couldn't wait. For the first time ever I ordered a book from Amazon UK, because I wasn't willing to wait for a version in the U.S. Was the book worth it? Of course, it was. I reviewed most of Joyce's books for a major newspaper, that, sadly, no longer exists, and Joyce was one author that never disappointed. The string continues. This semi-autobiographical novel is sure to arouse the nostalgic joy and angst of coming of age in the mid-20th century, a time that is recent, yet remote. It is certainly hoped that Graham Joyce's physical problems will quickly vanish so that he can get busy on his next novel.
on 12 December 2013
This is the final novel in the summer of '76 trilogy I chose to read, and my favourite of the three. I almost gave it five stars. I thought it captured the mood of the seventies, which is now so long ago. The book brought back memories of feeding coins into slots to ring home, and those pesky ladybirds that flew into your mouth looking for moisture. Of course there have been many hot summers since '76, and the day of the holiday camp faded away with the dawning of cheap flights to the Costas. The world wide web aside, much of what made people happy then still does to this day. I would highly recommend this novel.