A memoir of a childhood

This Boy
by Alan Johnson

This Boy Alan JohnsonA book that I would not normally have chosen, I bought this on a 3 for 2 offer at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge along with a detective novel and a book on literary theory. And now I never want to be heard complaining about my circumstances again – ever. To my shame, I wouldn’t normally go for biography.   Particularly not the biography of a Labour politician.  I’m too easily drawn by the escapism of fiction. However, I was humbled and inspired by this account.  I was left with a sense of having met with the character of Lily, Alan’s mother, named Lily throughout, never ‘mum’ or ‘my mother’ and also with Alan himself.  Not the boy Alan that the writer describes, but the Alan who wrote the book, Alan the writer.  The adult Alan.  Like Pissarro in his impressionist paintings,  he only just peeps into his own work.  I love a person free from the shackles of their own ego and there was a wonderful absence of ego in this piece of writing.  No self-glorification, nor self-congratulation or self-anything.  Just a frank description, at times humorous, at times painfully bleak and moving of a childhood which I for one would not have survived.  Oddly, despite her key role in the story, Alan’s sister Linda did not come alive for me despite being very much alive herself.  It was Lily’s courage and vulnerability and perseverance and unselfishness that came to the fore. Continue reading

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