Review: The Year of the Ladybird / Author: Graham Joyce / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: Out Now
For his latest novel, Graham Joyce takes us to sunny Skegness and the torrid summer of '76. Callow college boy David lands himself a job as a Greenjacket at a seaside holiday camp and is soon up to his candy-striped lapels in the sorts of experiences that make a man of you. Unable to help himself, he embarks upon an affair with an attractive young cleaning lady who has a tragic air about her, while her frightening, Ray Winston-esque husband tries to recruit him into the National Front. It's a situation that can't end well, and to make matters worse he's hallucinating a pair of figures, a man and boy, who might be ghosts or evil omens.
For much of the time, the book plays out like a serio-comic, post-watershed version of Hi-de-Hi! David's narration is jokey and easygoing, and a sense of period and place emerges seemingly without effort: all the tawdry business of running donkey races and doling out sticks of rock, and the seedy magic shows and comedy routines that make up the evening's entertainment. As a coming of age story, The Year of the Ladybird fairly reeks authenticity. Less convincing, though, are the supernatural elements, which feel like a distraction from the main thrust of the narrative, and which anyway are so minor that you wonder why the author bothered to tack them on. Not as intense or meaningful as it would like to be, but an enjoyable nostalgia trip.