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Once in a House on Fire Paperback – 9 Apr 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (9 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330351923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330351928
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

Given her start in life, it is all the more remarkable that Andrea Ashworth should have turned out to be an Oxford graduate with such a compelling memoir under her belt. Her father died when she was five, her mother was left, poor and isolated in 70s, depressed Manchester to bring up Andrea and her younger sister singlehandedly. Along comes a physically abusive stepfather who sets about dragging the young family into the pits of despair, petty crime and sordid poverty. But Ashworth writes an enchanting story that blends social history (the 70s are rendered with an acute eye for detail) with poetic intensity. She turns a child's uncomprehending gaze on the domestic horrors of working- class life when it is dominated by a vicious man and drunken, self-pitying mother. We know, as we listen with Andrea, that her mother has decided to leave her man when she puts Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" on the turntable. Unfortunately, we know, too, that she was kidding herself when said man comes home and twirls her round the front room to the sound of Motown disco. We know, because Ashworth makes us re-live her childhood by dint of her astonishing gift for storytelling. --Lilian Pizzichini

Review

'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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very brave book to write. It is clear that this poor girl has had violence "normalised" thanks to her stepfathers and mother and here the struggle lies for her...There also seems streaks of Stockholm syndrome-like affects on the author. It seems clear from the book the author's stepfathers and mother did nearly everything possible to try and destroy the chances and lives of all three girls in this family. The reality is that violence is not the norm, and they are all lucky to be alive, let alone get into Oxbridge. This book is a light hearted version of what really happened. I truly dread what really went on. Shame on all the parents involved for making the children live through that hell. In one way or another the children will end up dealing with it for the rest of their lives. Good luck to them all with that one.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Every time I read this book, and there have been many, it never fails to make me angry and sad that kids have to grow up like this. At the same time, it brings back memories of my own of the unfairness of childhood and the impact this could have had if you let the grown ups win.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Painful yet funny. I guess the book conforms to my oft-declared understanding about writing: that if it is good, then any subject can be brought to life. Can give pleasure. However terrible the tale.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very powerful account. I feel it should be read by all teachers to give them insight in to a family in turmoil. The edition I bought was particularly good as it included an 'afterword' which answers some of the burning (no pun intended!) questions you have as a reader.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read this on recommendation. Inspirational reading.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent, as described, well priced and quick delivery, thanks
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Format: Paperback
I can definitely say that this is the most amazing book that I have ever read. For me what made it so compelling is the fact that the events Ashworth describes are that of her own life, which make the book both hearatbreaking yet extremely uplifting. Because it rings so true you find yourself empathising with Andrea and rooting for her, willing her to survive the "fire" and escape the house where her childhood traumas took place. As an 18-year-old I could identify with some of her teenage problems but also realised that compared to her I have been extremely fortunate in my life so far. If you want to appreciate what you have got, read this book. The part that affected me most was when Andrea and her sister Laurie found all the knives in the house and made sheaths for them out of sellotape and cardboard in an attempt to render them harmless, afraid that their stepfather was eventually about to kill their mother. This made me realise how lucky I am never to have had to fear for my safety of the safety of someone in my family in my own home. But I felt more admiration than pity for Andrea, who through education and a love of books, succeded enough to be able to escape from home to pursue her dreams at Oxford University. Despite the many sad events in this book, the ending is remarkably positive, with Andrea leaving home in a taxi bound for Oxford. Although it is a story of abuse and terror, it is by no means depressing. A truly inspirational book which I don't think I will ever forget.
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By Susannah B (SusieB) TOP 100 REVIEWER on 27 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
Although I have read many biographies and autobiographies of writers and artists, I have not read this type of memoir book before - by this, I mean the memories of people who have had a terribly tough time and have managed, commendably, to come out the other side. However, a friend gave me this book saying that it wasn't a 'victim' book and it wasn't depressing, but life-affirming. So I read it and was very impressed.

The setting is Manchester in the 1970s and the author, Andrea Ashworth, relates her story of growing up with her two sisters, her mother and her two stepfathers. Both stepfathers, although initially appearing to be reasonable people later reveal themselves to be selfish, violent bullies who verbally and physically abuse the girls' mother before starting on Andrea and her sisters. This is a sad, moving tale of violence, poverty and neglect - but it is not depressing, and I feel that is due to the way Ashworth relates her story with honesty, wit and incredibly, with humour. It seems to me that in no way does she try to demand sympathy from her readers - in fact Ashworth reserves her sympathy for her poor, despairing, neglectful mother whilst she (Ashworth) determines to make the best of her life by using her intelligence and resourcefulness to escape from the situation she has found herself in.

One of the reviews in my edition states that the book is "almost a sociological resource as much as a family story, so rich is it in vivid detail of everyday life on the wrong side of 1970s Manchester" and this seems true, for although I have no personal experience of that type of background, I almost feel as if I have after reading this brilliant memoir.
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