This story of family life is told in two threads – both told in the first person. The threads alternate between Jake (the middle son) and Mary, Jake’s mother. Mary’s thread allows us a brief look into her childhood/teens which helps in understanding her descent into alcoholism. We also get to read her perception alongside the similar timeline as Jake’s. This might sound confusing and you may have read other stories that are written this way and not enjoyed them. Don’t let that put you off though as the two running side by side are crafted so skilfully that it makes perfect sense and adds to the magic.
At first I was a bit bewildered by the prologue and had it in the back of mind as the story unfolded. I have to say, the way it is a part of the story is also very skilfully done. It clicked for me straight away and because I couldn’t quite believe it, didn’t want it to be there – I read that part of the story again. A bit like Jake wondering if he had been dreaming! I was hoping for something different of course. The characters became `real’ for me – I only wanted the best for them all.
Jake, especially, is a wonderful character: with his love of Greek mythology; his work at the corner shop and relationship with its owner; how he tries to fill the parental role in the family when his father moves out; and, perhaps most importantly, how he tries to rationalise events in his family’s life. I felt it was good that his story is counter-balanced by letting the reader also hear Mary and her version of events. Otherwise, it could have been all too easy to demonise her. However, as her background and story is revealed, it becomes clearer why she has turned into the woman she has and, while she becomes not necessarily a character we can sympathise with, at least one that we can understand.
The characters were well-defined and this includes those on the periphery. Mr Horrocks who owns the local shop is exactly as you would imagine him to be as are all the other people who make up this brilliant story.
Glasshopper is the kind of novel that stays with you, or rather the characters and their little quirks do. Adolescent Jake is very vivid and seeing the story unfold through his eyes parallel to his mum Mary’s story works very well. The pain of growing up is captured beautifully in both cases.
What I really like is that Isabel Ashdown has managed to keep a lot of family secrets buried under the surface, and yet those secrets are what drives me as a reader forward. Nothing is ever spelt out; events are implied and it’s satisfying to work things out for yourself. The end is totally unexpected and lifts the story.
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