The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce. Gollancz £12.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn
Graham Joyce’s latest is subtitled “A Ghost Story”, but with that certain uncertainty we’ve come to expect from many of the author’s novels. Are they really ghosts or are they memories from long ago, of a terrible deed? Is Rose really clairvoyant or is she a first-rate reader of people’s mannerisms? These and similar questions will remain unanswered in this review; you’ll just have to read the book and decide for yourselves.
Whatever your conclusions, there is no doubt that this is an excellent novel. The chief reason is that the characters are real. You really do engage with David, the narrator, as he experiences life as a holiday camp worker in Skegness during the summer heat-wave (and drought) of 1976, the year Britain was invaded by swarms of ladybirds. There are no cataclysmic events that threaten the world. But there are events that impinge upon David: his relationships with Terri and Nikki; his “friendship” with Colin (who may be a bit of a psychopath); his engagement with the far right and their fascists’ ideas; the hidden memories of his childhood and his father.
David is a student in the 1970s (when university graduates didn’t leave with massive tuition debts, when tertiary education was more egalitarian) and takes a summer job wearing a green-striped blazer, organising events and competitions for the holiday makers. This was a time before the masses flocked to the Costa de Sol and the like, when such camps were in a lingering decline. Apparently Graham Joyce did such work as a student and his experiences add verisimilitude to the novel. He adds in the acknowledgements that the characters he created are, indeed, fictional.
This is the second novel I’ve read recently which is set in a holiday destination – the other was Joyland by Stephen King. And as with King, The Year of the Ladybird begins slowly and yet within a dozen pages the narrator has completely drawn you into this engaging story. Along with Some Kind of Fairy Story and The Tooth Fairy, this is one of Joyce’s best novels. And at £12.99 for the hardcover, it’s a steal: get the Ladybird bug and read this book.