During the heatwave of 1975, Maggie, thirteen, goes to live with her grandfather, Pop, in Sutton Coldfield. Pop’s mission is to know everything: the annual Fox and Dog’s pub quiz is looming. Maggie doesn’t know everything, but she does know about the great comedians – Max Wall, Ken Dodd, Tommy Cooper, Eric and Ernie – about country music, Shirley Bassey and about how her mother died.
Pop sings with the poetry of the suburbs and aches with the poignancy of adolescence. Kitty Aldridge has a wonderfully distinctive voice and a deliciously sharp eye for the extraordinariness of ordinary lives.
Shortlisted for the Pendleton May First Novel Award 2002
Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2002
Gently, unsparingly, with a clarity of eye and heart that is perfectly matched by sharply evocative prose (the ‘eerily glad’ voices of disc-jockeys, the ‘swimming lesson blue’ of the sky), Kitty Aldridge brings to life a Don Quixiote of the West Midlands and the painfully believable thirteen year old Sancho by his side – his suddenly motherless granddaughter. Forced upon each other by tragedy, they move from pint to pint through the heatwave stricken England of the mid-70s, an England full of echoes of India and, oddly, of the Mississippi Delta too. Here ‘nature is afoot’ and there’s always something worse around the corner. It’s an ancient but also decrepit England of pub quizzes, Aston Villa Football Club, Nicholas Parsons and grand Romantic pursuits. Maggie initiates Tommy Cooper and Max Wall and gradually faces up to the truth about her mother’s death, while Pop tilts at the windmills of Sutton Coldfield and wildly plots to win the heart of his chosen Dulcinea, the widow Iris, she is of the ‘ankles like sand eels’. Kitty Aldridge is a real discovery, a writer or precision, delicacy and wit, and her first novel is a rare delight.
Aldridge captures an entire and exhilarating world… if literary London can lionise Zade Smith, it should pay Kitty Aldridge the same compliment. She has star quality. Pop exhumes a childhood spent in dingy pubs and, in lustrous prose, turns it into a thing of beauty. The eponymous hero, a chain-smoking Don Quixote of the suburbs, is masterly.
I love this novel. It’s the detail I found so intriguing and moving.
MAGGIE O’FARRELL, RADIO 4 OPEN BOOK 2001
A wonderful story. A sort of twentieth century West Midlands Heidi, I absolutely loved it.
CRESSIDA CONNOLLY, THE OBSERVER BOOKS OF 2002
The writing is sumptuous, beautiful and breathtakingly vivid.
Pop is an unforgettable creation… By some distance, the most eloquent first novel I have read this century.
‘BEST BOOKS OF 2001’ – SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
It is hard to overpraise this gentle comedy of manners, set in the Birmingham in the mid-Seventies. The main character is a 13-year-old girl whose mother has died and whose father has run away to the States. She is parked on her grandfather, Pop, an engaging wastrel whose life seems to consists of going on an permanent pub crawl around the Black Country, drinking and smoking himself to death. It is his hidden depths – his quixotic fantasies, his unexpected flair for pub quizes – that make him the perfect chaperone for a growing child. (read more)
One of Aldridge’s greatest triumphs in a wonderfully subtle and evocative book is to demonstrate how the unlikely pair become firm allies. Maggie, poised on the verge of adolescence, and Pop, teetering on the brink of decrepitude, gel awkwardly but their relationship sets like glue…A funny, sad and moving work of great depth, crammed with stunning observations… Parting with them at the end is a wrench. (read more)
An authentic, gentle and genuinely funny account of ordinary life… This novel is at once life affirming and important.
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
Aldridge combines rich poetic prose with an impressively light touch.
A moving story, told with wit and invention, and the language shimmers in the heat-haze of sadness and loss. A truly original first novel.
A breathtaking debut.
Behind the well-noted vernacular of the barroom there are the dark sonorities of Eliot’s ‘Time gentlemen please’. The undertow of mortality ranges from sombre to hilarious. Kitty Aldridge infuses the grim suburban scenery with biting disgust and rhapsodic humour. The dog and the inarticulate child emerge as sympathetic characters with a rich inner life.
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
A brilliant first novel.
The tentative relationship between the two is at this powerful, beguiling story’s heart. Aldridge an erstwhile actor, is clearly talented.
A poignant, poetic book. Pop’s as shimmery as the heat haze of a hot summer’s day.