By Isabel Ashdown
Pubished by Myriad Editions
In 2009, Brighton-based Myriad Editions published Isabel Ashdown’s début novel, Glasshopper, an extract of which had won the 2008 Mail on Sunday Novel Competition. I can only agree with the competition judges who described the author’s writing as “magnificent”!
Set in Portsmouth in 1984, Glasshopper is the story of a troubled family. Thirteen-year-old Jake is an endearing main character, trying his best to live as normally as possible for the sake of his little brother, while his mother goes in and out of alcohol-induced depression bouts and his father, who moved out of the family home, makes an appearance only at weekends.
Initially, Mary, Jake’s mother, is easy to despise for letting herself go and not thinking of her two children. However, not wanting her to be merely considered as a “hopeless alcoholic”, Ashdown decided to give her a voice. Hence the brilliantly balanced book structure of alternating chapters written from the points of view of the two characters.
Mary’s life is told starting from May 1957 and readers can start to understand what hides behind her behaviour. The last entries of both narratives date to August 1985, which coincides with the first holiday after Jake’s parents reconcile. The newly reunited family visits Mary’s long-lost sister Rachel and her two children at their country farm in Dordogne, without suspecting what is waiting for them.
What secrets does this family hide? There is only one way to find out: follow Jake around the South-East of England, the Isle of Wight and all the way to France…