Glasshopper is a beautifully observed story of a young family affected by alcoholism. Isabel Ashdown has a delicate touch and she never apportions blame. She simply lets the story unfold with gentleness and grace.
The novel explores the psychological impact of behaviour within families, behaviour that can do untold and unintentional damage over time. It's also a story of accepting people as they are, without condoning their behaviour.
The story is told from two perspectives, covering a period from the 1950s to the 1980s. The sense of time and place is wonderful as the book moves easily back and forth across the years.
The first is Jake's, a down to earth lad with a sense of humour and passion for Classical Studies. It also soon becomes clear that he's the peace keeper in the family, the one who takes responsibility to try and maintain an illusion of normality to the outside world.
There's a moment early in the book when he's so embarrassed by his mum's behaviour that he pretends that he doesn't know her. He only looks towards her when his friend has left.
'Eric the landlord spots me, shakes his head as if to say, don't worry about it, Jakey. For a moment, I'm stuck to the spot. I just stand and stare at the back of her head. She's like a gorgon, and I have turned to stone. Quietly, I walk over and slip my hand into hers, and lead her away from the pub.'
The second perspective is Mary's, Jake's mother, the alcoholic. This is a woman who swings from sobriety and joy in her children, to depression and drink when life overwhelms her.
'You know I love you, Jakey. Never, ever forget that, darling. I love you.'
Jake never does forget, although at times he struggles to like his mother.
The friendships that Jake develops outside of the family show him that are many ways to love and all of them come with their own complications.
This gives his character perspective and strength during the dark days.
Glasshopper is a wonderful, sensitively written book that's well balanced, evoking empathy for both Jake and Mary. Their story will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Publisher: Myriad Editions