Review: This Boy by Alan Johnson (5/5)

Wednesday 26 March 2014
"The extraordinary 1950s London childhood of one of Britain's best-loved politicians.
Alan Johnson's childhood was not so much difficult as unusual, particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary. Not in respect of the poverty, which was shared with many of those living in the slums of post-war Britain, but in its transition from two-parent family to single mother and then to no parents at all.

This is essentially the story of two incredible women: Alan's mother, Lily, who battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and loneliness to try to ensure a better life for her children; and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility at a very young age and who fought to keep the family together and out of care when she herself was still only a child.

Played out against the background of a vanishing community living in condemned housing, the story moves from post-war austerity in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, through the race riots, school on the Kings Road, Chelsea in the Swinging 60s, to the rock-and-roll years, making a record in Denmark Street and becoming a husband and father whilst still in his teens.

This Boy is one man's story, but it is also a story of England and the West London slums which are so hard to imagine in the capital today. No matter how harsh the details, Alan Johnson writes with a spirit of generous acceptance, of humour and openness which makes his book anything but a grim catalogue of miseries."

I was so excited to read this book and it was absolutely fantastic. My main reason for reading it was because of London. I watch, read and listen to anything about London but I particularly love 'old' London. As the blurb says it's hard to imagine the slums that people used to live in existing in the capital today. Some of the poorer areas of London many years ago are now amongst some of the richest in the UK. It is absolutely incredible. As was this book.

Like so many people of that era, Alan was born into a poor family. He was born however into a loving family (of sorts) with two fantastic women. His mother Lily and sister Linda. His waste of space father was no help whatsoever. Also like so many people of that era instead of lying down and taking the crap life threw at them, his sister basically raised Alan and he then went on to be a very successful politician. How easy it would have been to turn to a life of crime or something like that.

Alan comes across very well in this book and seems like such a remarkable person. He doesn't write looking for sympathy or anything like that it's just a really well written book straight from the heart. As a young man I don't really pay much attention to politics, and I know I should but as I said my main reason for wanting to read this book was for the London element. It really is a fantastic portrayal of London life way back when and is a social commentary of sorts along with being Alan's life story. I cannot reccommend this book highly enough for anyone else who is looking for a social history book about London, this definitely fits the bill.

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