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The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce
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Book Name: The Year of the Ladybird
Author: Graham Joyce
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Horror / Ghost Story
Release Date: June 20, 2013

It is 1976, the hottest summer in England since records began, and a young man called David is about to start work at a holiday camp close to the seaside town of Skegness. Under skies that are bright and cloudless, David helps to entertain holidaymakers of all ages, whether it be judging the quality of sandcastles or calling out the bingo numbers, all the while learning the pressures and pitfalls of adulthood. It doesn’t feel like a setting for a spooky tale, but when David begins to find himself haunted by visions of a man in a dark suit with a small boy at his side, things take on a more unsettling aspect.

The Year of the Ladybird is a very effective ghost story, one that reads like a memoir, a story in which the line between fact and fiction can often feel blurred, making the supernatural element of it all the more unsettling. It isn’t packed with scenes of horror or shocks to get the reader jumping out of their seat; instead, Graham Joyce’s writing creates a growing sense of dread and unease that is nurtured through the course of the novel, an atmosphere even felt in conversations and interactions with other characters.

For me, this is the book’s greatest triumph. Despite the seemingly mundane surroundings, there’s much more going on than initially meets the eye. David is a flawed, believable character, and by making him the narrator, Joyce takes us right into his head; although we can see his decisions are sometimes suspect, they’re always understandable. We may be more aware than him, but we never feel smug or frustrated by his actions. Those who David encounters on his journey are equally as vivid, brought to life by dialogue that gives each their own voice. All serve their required purpose within the subtly twisting plot, but not one of them feels like they exist just to fulfil a role; so much so, that the boundary between truth and story feels breached yet again. There are times when we feel like an observer rather than a reader, that we are hearing David tell his tale rather than looking at words on a page.

I’ve always believed that a good book is a paradox, creating the need to reach the end and find out what happens, all the while not wanting to get there because it means the story will be over. Similarly, a great book will fill its reader with a range of emotions, but ultimately end with a feeling of satisfaction. The Year of the Ladybird is a book with a heart-warming ending that left me in tears. Yes, it’s a fantastic ghost story, but it’s also a coming-of-age tale, a comment on first love, politics, racial tensions, how the easily-led and unaware can suddenly find themselves in a place they never wanted to be. It may be set almost four decades in the past, but it’s timeless in its appeal; perhaps more frightening than the ghosts is the fact that some of the issues it deals with are still around today, evil spirits rearing their heads once more.

I’ve read much about Graham Joyce in the months following his death last year, but The Year of the Ladybird is the first of his books that I’ve read. It won’t be the last; written with incredible warmth and sincerity, it’s stayed with me since I finished it a week ago. I was hooked from the very first page, enthralled by writing that at first seemed simplistic, yet grew to speak to me like an old friend. It’s a wonderful book that, like its author, will never be forgotten.

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Rating: 8.8/10 (4 votes cast)
The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce, 8.8 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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