13/04/2006

Twopence to Cross the Mersey

This is the first in a series of four books forming Helen Forrester's autobiography. I had not realised until starting this book that it was in fact autobiographical rather than fiction; the cover looks like a typical Liverpool saga, and I'd had the book for quite some time before deciding to try it.

I was almost immediately hooked! The style is fast-moving and evocative without being at all self-pitying. Helen is 12 when the book opens, oldest of a family of seven children, and disaster has struck. Her fairly prosperous middle-class family has become bankrupt and destitute. This is partly due to the economic depression of the 1930s, and partly due to her parents' bohemian and extravagant lifestyle. They leave their house for their creditors, and spend their last pennies on travelling to Liverpool, where her father hopes to find work.

Of course there is no work to be found, and so begins a moving story of abject destitution, near starvation, and grim determination on behalf of Helen and some of her siblings. There were times when I had to remind myself it was indeed true anecodotes about a real family, rather than a rather grim invention. And yet there was always something positive and hopeful running through every disaster that struck, some conviction that things had to get better - and not only because Helen, despite being kept away from school to look after her baby brother, has clearly become a published author as an adult!

I expected to find it a bit of a struggle to keep going - instead I was gripped, drawn in to this family, more aware than I had ever been of what it meant to be bankrupt and destitute in hard times, and extremely thankful for my own lifestyle in the 21st century.

Highly recommended. This book is not currently in print in either the UK or USA, but widely available second-hand or in charity shops.

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