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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
Bastard Out of Carolina (Penguin Modern Classics)
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on 15 November 2017
Wonderful writing
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on 23 August 2017
Harrowing story, very entertaining read and so much more informative than the film adaption.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 October 2017
Dorothy Allison’s harrowing yet compassionate story of white trash poverty, cruelty, abuse and solidarity in the American South is story is narrated by Ruth Anne Boatwright, known as Bone, and presents the voice of a girl forced to grow up much too quickly.

Allison’s background is similar to that of Bone and her prose has the gut-wrenching feel of authenticity. The setting is Greenville, South Carolina during the 1950s with Bone and her family constantly on the move through poverty and lack of employment.

Bone was born a bastard; her mother, then 15, later tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to have the word "illegitimate" removed from her daughter's birth certificate, ‘The stamp on that birth certificate burned her like the stamp she knew they'd tried to put on her. No good, lazy, shiftless. She'd work her hands to claws, her back to a shovel shape, her mouth to a bent and awkward smile — anything to deny what Greenville County wanted to name her.’ Bone’s mother is determined to marry to legitimise future children.

Bone’s mother is a complex character, desperately needing her worthless husband Daddy Glen and fiercely, but unsuccessfully, protecting her daughter from his physical and sexual abuse. Interestingly, the book is dedicated ‘For Mama, Ruth Gibson Allison 1935-1990’.

Daddy Glen’s psychological abuse of Bone makes her believe that she is the author of his behavior and the narrative describes her pathetic attempts to address her guilt, ‘When I saw myself in Daddy Glen's eyes, I wanted to die. No, I wanted to be already dead, cold and gone. Everything felt hopeless. He looked at me and I was ashamed of myself’.

There is a solidarity amongst the strong but downtrodden women ‘I liked being one of the women with my aunts, liked feeling a part of something nasty and strong and separate from my big, rough boy cousins and the whole world of spitting, growling, over bearing males’. The males are violent and selfish but beneath their harsh exteriors, Allison reveals aspects of sensitivity.

The repetition is necessary to highlight the relentless awfulness of Bone’s existence – lacking hope and any real sense of home and family. The narrator’s voice gradually becomes more distanced from the events she describes, perhaps because this is the only way to protect herself.

The characters, Bone included, are revealed in all their weaknesses – drunkenness, promiscuity, violence, poverty, hunger and criminality, but also with hints of what they might have been had they had opportunities, encouragement and love. The rootlessness of Bone’s existence is chillingly portrayed ‘We moved so often our mail never caught up with us, moved sometimes before we'd even gotten properly unpacked or I'd learned the names of all the teachers at my new school’. It is fascinating to realise just how few non-family members are involved [Bone's interacts with the religious Pearl family introduces some necessary humorous contrast].

Given the social position of her characters, Allison could easily have created stereotypes. Instead Daddy Glen, for example, is presented with great subtlety - repulsive and repellent but insecure. Part of his anger coming from the successful lives of his two brothers and the contempt that his own father shows him, ‘Nobody wants me to have nothing nice’.

The message permeating the narrative is that family members who should protect you can harm you, and sometimes people that love you will be complicit in your abuse [‘My heart broke all over again. I wanted my life back, my mama, but I knew I would never have that. The child I had been was gone with the child she had been. We were new people, and we didn't know each other anymore. I shook my head desperately’].

Allison’s novel has the same intensity and poetic sensitivity as Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ and can be recommended as highly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 April 2014
Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright lives with her mother and sister in author Dorothy Allison’s own hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. Surrounded by a large extended family, Bone’s is a childhood no child should ever have to experience. The white trash Boatwrights are poor, ignorant, often violent, the men often drunk, as well as loving, sometimes tender, loyal and protective. But Bone’s mother can’t ultimately protect her daughter due to her own needs and inadequacies, and this powerful and hard-hitting story takes the reader inside an experience that few of us have ever had to confront. Allison holds nothing back in her attempt to portray the very real day-to-day life of dirt-poor white trash families, and does it very effectively. Although she has chosen to tell the story as fiction, it is firmly based on her own lived experience. The story is told by Bone herself, and her child’s voice is both convincing and so very poignant. The book offers no answers, no happy endings, but goes deep into issues of family violence and abuse and offers the reader a thought-provoking and nuanced view of the psychological contradictions that make pat and easy judgements completely inappropriate. A happy ending would be a betrayal of the deep damage child abuse can do to a child. But this reader at least came away from the book with a deeper understanding of both how such situations arise and how hard it can be to escape from them. As a novel it’s not perfect, but any faults are minor when the overall impact is considered. This is an important book and I hope this reissue brings it to a wider audience.
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on 7 November 2012
I just happenned to pick this book from my daughter's bookcase. It is not the usual book I read but I was hooked from the first few pages. The author has written a novel about a difficult and at times harrowing subject very readable even to the point where the general suffering is, at times, mixed with humour. The characters, each with their own personalities, are very interesting. The insights of the main character, Bone (the author) offer glimpses into the often complicated processes going on within the human psyche due to the relationships and circumstances she finds herself in.
There is certainly enough within the novel to make the reader feel strongly about the plight of the disadvantaged in general and the abused in particular and its subject matter is worthy of further study.
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on 24 August 2015
I wanted to meet all of the boatrights, I felt that I was beside the main character Bone all the way through, it made me laugh, cry & want to cover my eyes! People who want to read a very touching story with a great heroine will love it!
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on 30 September 2015
I have never been so angry by the actions of fictional characters in a book. I found this utterly heartbreaking throughout. It should be read by all.
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on 8 May 2013
I don't really understand all the hype and acclaim for this novel. The first chapter is an example of quite fine writing, but overall the narrative is wandering and incoherent. Key characters quickly become annoying, and do not develop further than being basic white trash stereotypes. One or two moments of sublime description, I'll give it that. But overall the book just loses its way.
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on 6 October 2016
Brilliant read. Well written. Shockingly sad and traumatic in places.
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on 13 January 2017
Bought this on my friend's Wish List, she loves it.
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