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The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce
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The Year of the Ladybird

by Graham Joyce

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Another slice of Midlands life from Graham Joyce, this book draws heavily on Graham's own experience working as a holiday camp Redcoat in the year in question, 1976. For those unfamiliar with, or too young to remember, Britain in those days, 1976 was the year of the hottest summer in living memory, drought, a major infestation of ladybirds (ladybugs to US readers), the rise of far-right politics and the early stirrings of punk rock. All these things - well, perhaps not so much the music, but certainly some of dissatisfaction with the music scene that helped bring punk about - are thrown into the mix in this novel. The setting is a Skegness holiday camp; in the middle 1970s, the holiday camps, which were once major elements in the UK travel industry, were beginning their slow decline as mass overseas tourism began to take hold of the imagination. The market leader in this business was an entrepreneur called Billy Butlin; he is namechecked in the book, and the camp where Graham Joyce worked was one of Butlin's, with their infamous 'Redcoats' (many major British entertainers started their careers as Redcoats) , although the camp in the novel is a bit more downmarket than Butlin's. Skegness was (and still is) the preferred destination for a lot of holidaymakers from the East Midlands and south Yorkshire, and this is reflected in the voices of many of the minor characters in the novel. And being Graham Joyce, there is an element of the fantastic, in the form of a very personal ghost for the protagonist who keeps intruding on the real world.

We are pitched into the story very quickly, almost unduly quickly, without so much scene-setting as perhaps you'd find in some other of Graham's novels; but once the protagonist, David Barwise, arrives at the camp, we are soon introduced to the other characters and the setting. Many British readers will be there already, in any case, as this is familiar territory for a lot of readers; but you don't need to know Skegness to quickly pick up on the sense of place and the surroundings.

The plot proceeds apace, and David is quickly pitched into relationships with colleagues, a rapid finding of a facility for dealing with guests, especially children, and the continual interruption of the ghost from the past. David's accidental involvement with far-right politics puts him in a degree of peril, which combine with the confusion of his relationships and the personal ghost to bring him to a crisis, which is precipitated by a supernatural intervention from an unlikely source.

Two things stood out for me in this book: the authentic voice of the ordinary English Midlanders and, oddly enough, the factional nature of extremist politics in the UK. (My personal experience is of extreme parties of the left rather than the right, but all political parties share the curse of factionalism, and extremist parties of all colours experience this more.) As with so many of Graham's later novels, the sense of place is also very strong, not only with Skegness and its surroundings but also its geographical hinterland; it is not described in any detail, but there are sufficient clues given to allow any reader who knows the area, as I do, to vividly imagine the settings mentioned in the book.

There is a personal revelation which explains the ghost; it relates to a family secret. Having myself experienced a family secret and its eventual revelation, I understood that aspect of the plot and the characters' motivations.

There are a few failures of sub-editing (one character's car changes model in the course of a journey), and even the UK edition has a number of American usages that were not removed for the UK text when 'ladybirds' was retained instead of 'ladybugs' - "sticks of rock candy", for example, whereas the correct colloquial English use would just be "sticks of rock". But this is not too significant or intrusive.

I doubt that this will displace any of Graham Joyce's other novels in my personal list of favourites, but this book has much to recommend it as a picture of a particular place and time, and an individual's personal journey of discovery. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Jun 6, 2016 |
This book is like the British version of Stephen King's 'Joyland.'
Joyce's writing is more elegant, spare and lyrical than King's, and he doesn't succumb to King's urge to add in a grand finale - which makes me personally, judge that this is a slightly better-crafted book - but the two are very, very similar. If you liked one, you will love the other.

A young man, a college student in the 1970's, takes a job at a past-its-prime summer resort, and discovers that he's great with kids. He learns the ropes, negotiates relationships with some sketchy co-workers, develops an attraction for an older woman, but through it all, is haunted by the ghosts of the past.

(All of the above applies to both books.)

Here, though, the 'ghost' is personal. The narrator, David, knows that his biological dad died in this resort town when he was three. His mom and stepdad refuse to talk about the circumstances, and he has a sort of vague hope of coming to some kind of closure by taking this job, even against his family's wishes.

In addition to his own issues, this summer David must figure out who he is and where his place is in life. A love triangle develops: he develops a thing for the married Terri, whom he suspects is abused. Simultaneously, the young and lovely Nikki sets her sights on him. Meanwhile, Terri's husband persistently tries to recruit him to the National Front. Not getting his ass kicked by Nazi skinheads is also a goal. The innocent holiday fun has a dark current - and some of these people may not draw the line at murder. As this is a certain type of resort, there's also a fortune-teller, a stage magician, an Italian Tenor, and any number of colorful but believable characters. Through it all, the feel of the book is nostalgic without being sentimental; the message one about the complexities of negotiating life's pitfalls.

Copy of this book provided by NetGalley. Much appreciation for the opportunity to be an early reader - as always, my opinion is my own. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Summer of 1976, the hottest since records began and a young man leaves behind his student days and learns how to grow up. A first job in a holiday camp beckons. But with political and racial tensions simmering under the cloudless summer skies there is a price to be paid for his new-found freedom and independence. A price that will come back to haunt him, even in the bright sunlight of summer.

“As with SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE, Graham Joyce has crafted a deceptively simple tale of great power. With beautiful prose, wonderful characters and a perfect evocation of time and place, this is a novel that transcends the boundaries between the everyday and the supernatural while celebrating the power of both.”


Ahhh yes…1976, the year of the endless summer... "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" had been number one forever, punk rock was waiting in the wings, jumbo flares and Concord collars were de rigueur oh and yes the Ladybird plague...It really was the most bizarre experience , almost like an alien invasion, I remember people shovelling buckets full of them off pavements.

It is during that this rather surreal time that Graham Joyce sets his latest novel. Joyce's novels have a dreamlike quality, very often with the characters (and reader) unsure as to whether the experiences are real or part of a daydream or, more often than not, a nightmare.

"Ladybirds" is no exception, it is like one of those summer days in 1976 hazy and shimmering but with an undercurrent of oppression that something dark is swarming on the horizon and it is not going to be pleasant.

A beautiful poignant book that explores guilt, forgiveness and redemption. ( )
  jan.fleming | Feb 9, 2015 |
The protagonist takes a summer job in an English seaside amusement park in a tired, worn-down resort town. Creepy characters, young love, a seductress, and a mysterious lost father create the ingredients for a fabulous read. Another reviewer made the link to Stephen King's "Joyland" which I had read earlier in the year. I did not see the link before, but I do now, although Mr. King is the master of creep. They are both worthy of your read time. My thanks to the author and Goodreads for a complimentary copy of this book. ( )
  musichick52 | Jan 30, 2015 |
In mid-1970s England, David is a college student wishing to avoid working the summer as a construction site gopher for his step-father. He winds up at the same beach resort where his father had a heart attack and died when David was three. Hired on as a ‘greencoat’(for the uniforms they must wear) to man the various games & contests set up for the shabby resort’s working class guests and to perform chores in the theaters, he makes his first mistake almost instantly, sitting down at the table of Colin and Terri, part of the custodial crew. Colin is rude, crude, violent and doesn’t like to talk to people- and especially doesn’t want people talking to his beautiful young wife. But for some reason Colin takes David under his rather undesirable wing. This leads to a sort of friendship, and to another mistake- David goes to a racist meeting with Colin, not knowing where he was being taken. Which doesn’t go over well with certain others on the staff. Meanwhile, David starts having vivid hallucinations of a man with a rope and a small boy, hallucinations so real he follows them at one point. There is a love triangle- really more of a love pentagon, really.

Although Graham Joyce is known for his fantasy work, this book has little of the supernatural. While there is a stage magician, the only real magic is the psychic laundry woman. This is more of a coming of age book, with David making pretty much every mistake he can make. It’s also a look back at the end of an era, when the seaside resorts were on the way down, and the beginning of the Punk era. I had sympathy for David; young and more or less innocent, with few people telling him the truth. The characters aren’t particularly deep but they held my interest just fine; I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to see how the whole thing untangled. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Nov 19, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385538634, Hardcover)

Critically acclaimed author Graham Joyce returns with a sexy, suspenseful,and slightly supernatural novel set 1976 England during the hottest summer in living memory, in a seaside resort where the past still haunts the present.

David, a college student, takes a summer job at a run-down family resort in a dying English resort town. This is against the wishes of his family . . . because it was at this resort where David's biological father disappeared fifteen years earlier. But something undeniable has called David there.

A deeper otherworldliness lies beneath the surface of what we see. The characters have a suspicious edge to them . . . David is haunted by eerie visions of a mysterious man carrying a rope, walking hand-in-hand with a small child . . . and the resort is under siege by a plague of ladybugs. Something different is happening in this town.

When David gets embroiled in a fiercely torrid love triangle, the stakes turn more and more menacing. And through it all, David feels as though he is getting closer to the secrets of his own past.

This is a darkly magic and sexy book that has a strong suspense line running through it. It's destined to continue to pull in a wider circle of readers for the exceptionally talented Graham Joyce.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:44 -0400)

"Critically acclaimed author Graham Joyce returns with a sexy, suspenseful,and slightly supernatural novel set 1976 England during the hottest summer in living memory, in a seaside resort where the past still haunts the present. David, a college student, takes a summer job at a run-down family resort in a dying English resort town. This is against the wishes of his family because it was at this resort where David's biological father disappeared fifteen years earlier. But something undeniable has called David there. A deeper otherworldliness lies beneath the surface of what we see. The characters have a suspicious edge to them. David is haunted by eerie visions of a mysterious man carrying a rope, walking hand-in-hand with a small child, and the resort is under siege by a plague of ladybugs. Something different is happening in this town. When David gets embroiled in a fiercely torrid love triangle, the stakes turn more and more menacing. And through it all, David feels as though he is getting closer to the secrets of his own past. This is a darkly magic and sexy book that has a strong suspense line running through it. It's destined to continue to pull in a wider circle of readers for the exceptionally talented Graham Joyce"--… (more)

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