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Once in a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth

Once in a House on Fire

by Andrea Ashworth

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A memoir about a young girl’s difficult childhood surrounded by domestic violence. Her intelligence and love of books eventually led to her leaving her hometown of Manchester, going to Oxford University and then becoming an academic. This is a very intense book and, although it tells a story that is at times sad, it’s interesting and absorbing. I read it when I was eighteen and I remember it made an impact on me then because of the author’s love of reading and the way she had achieved so much despite her background. [2011]
  papercat | Jul 1, 2017 |
I tore through this book like a "house on fire." It's that good. The writing is top notch, but the subject, a childhood spent in and around the housing projects of Manchester, England (with a couple years spent in Canada), rife with abuse and domestic violence is simply wrenching to read. The author's mom could really pick 'em. Ashworth remembers little about her real father, who died suspiciously, drowned in a shallow ditch, which make you wonder if he, like the two violently abusive and loutish stepfathers who followed him, was also a drinker. I will guiltily admit that I read Ashworth's account with a kind of horrified fascination. Her childhood was simply so unrelentingly awful that you wonder how she possibly survived. And yet she did. In one particularly telling passage she tells of how she and her two younger sisters were always glad to see the Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking, because it meant her stepfather would behave himself for a time. The three girls guiltily treasured the miniature Bibles the Witnesses left behind and even memorized many chapters and verses "as if we were doing homework for God." They soon tired of this however, as the fights and abuse continued. "Since God never seemed to come up with the goods, we eventually found ourselves concentrating less on prayers and more on high marks at school." And education, as it turned out was Ashworth's salvation, the wings that lifted her out of her hellish life and into the halls of Academe at Oxford. This is not really an uplifting tale, until you recognize that the author and her sisters did finally escape the vicious cycle of their rotten home life and establish productive and successful lives of their own. While not a happy story, Ashworth's skill makes it an absolutely riveting one. Perhaps one of the most vivid accounts of family violence and codependency I have ever encountered. ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Mar 26, 2010 |
A good read although a little long for me as a memoir. I liked it most because I knew the songs etc as I grew up at the same time as the author. The blurb on the back is a little excessive as the Scotsman uses `brilliant' 4 times, not quite that good a book for me!

Her life has made her the person she is now. I don't envy her having gone from pillar to post as a child and I can't imagine what it must've been like living with an abusive father and step-father feeling useless to help her mother. However, she had the strength to get out when she could and manage it with little distress to her family. Very well written but it dipped half way through for me and I was looking forward to being on the home straight.

I could imagine all of the `characters' which is a sign of a good writer and I would possibly read more by this author. I found the poverty part of her life much more interesting as I work with children from backgrounds such as this. Parts of her life are shocking if you haven't been brought up like this but Andrea tells it in such a way that the shock wears of and it becomes the norm, which is dreadful to feel like that as a person.

A book I've had for a while and one I'm very pleased to have read. I will recommend it to others. ( )
  SmithSJ01 | Mar 23, 2008 |
Although I enjoyed this book, I was not quite so enamoured with it as others who have reviewed the book.
It lacked a page-turning quality, and the continuity was a little wishy-washy, seeming to try and stuff years worth of information into the last few pages of the book, where it times her descriptive writing seemed lengthy and unnessary.
Having said that, the content of the book does make up for the unpracticed writing, as with many book of this genre, whose authors have been prompted to write a book more out of their life experiences than a deep desire to write. ( )
  curlywurly | Mar 29, 2007 |
This is brilliant. Andrea Ashworth writes so matter of factly about the awful conditions she grew up in. Had a particular resonance with me as I was brought up in Manchester at the same time so a lot of the surroundings were familiar to me. I passed this round family and friends who also thought it good. ( )
  judyb65 | Feb 9, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0330351923, Paperback)

In her engrossing memoir, Once in a House on Fire, Andrea Ashworth recalls growing up poor in a violent English household during the 1970s and 1980s. Ashworth's father drowned when she was just 5. Her mother then married a man who beat her frequently and made life miserable for the whole family. When Ashworth's mother finally got rid of him, she married a small-time criminal who also soon became violent. Throughout her childhood, the author struggled to protect her little sisters from their stepfathers and kept the family going when their mother could not function because of her injuries, depressions, and blinding headaches. Ashworth and her family moved around quite a bit, often living in other people's houses, sleeping in cots or on floors. They all suffered from the emotional and economic instability of their situation. Ashworth recalls the sunglasses her mother wore through cloudy dark English winters to conceal her bruised eyes. She also remembers sneaking out of the house one day to run through a rich neighborhood, where she paused occasionally to open the mailboxes of the wealthy and smell their comfort and safety.

Although Ashworth's story is all about loneliness and love gone wrong, the surprising thing is that this book is not always terribly sad-- there are interludes when the children have fun and in those sunny moments it seems probable that all of them, especially Andrea, will survive more or less intact. Ashworth recalls the details of her childhood vividly, in brief scenes. In one of those scenes, two sisters race down a cobbled street at breakneck speed. Each of them has one roller skate on--they are sharing. Ashworth's writing is crisp, her dialogue right to the point. This book is reminiscent of Frank Conroy's Stop-Time and Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, both classic memoirs of adolescence. --Jill Marquis

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:22 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Ashworth tells the true story of three sisters and their mother, a close-knit and loving family forced to battle with poverty, abuse and the effects of depression. Originally published in 1998 as an adult title, this book is aimed at a new young adult readership.… (more)

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