Sunday, 26 May 2013

Granny was a Buffer Girl

Granny was a Buffer Girl
Berlie Doherty
London, Catnip, 2007, 168p

Reading Berlie Doherty is like going on a trip down memory lane. Whilst my sister was reading Jacqueline Wilson, I was reading Doherty. I read every copy that they had in the library - books full of beautiful characters, loving families and whirlwind romances. They were realistic, I could relate to them, unlike a lot of the strange fantasies or melodramas that were available to teenagers. And now, again, Berlie Doherty remains one of my favourites.

Granny was a Buffer Girl is a tale in which three generations of the same family share their best stories around the dinner table. It is the night before Jess' departure to France for a study year abroad, and with her brother, parents and grandparents, tales of love, loss and life are shared.

The stories told are beautifully written. They are not intended to shock, but are the kind of stories your own families might have to tell. They start with the story of how Grandpa Jack met Birdie, a romance that was forbidden due to religious differences. Then, the story of how Jess' parents met, and the short life of their disabled son, Danny. The stories make you laugh and cry, written with such poetic language and emotional investment. 

First published in 1986, this book feels timeless. Perhaps it is because the stories are themselves historical, dating back to the childhoods of Jess' grandparents during the 1930s; but I think it's because these stories are universal - sitting around the dinner table, sharing, loving: these are things we have all experienced. 

Set in Sheffield, the story has a special meaning for me, reminding me of the beautiful city and vast landscape in which I lived for just one short year. The city plays an important role in Doherty's novel, offering a backdrop of social change through the last century, with mines closing and the city being  built up. 

The stories are so real and compelling that you hope that, in some way, they might be true. Perhaps Doherty drew inspiration from her family, from their stories. These kind, loving people are just the sort you want to meet. As a child, they touched my life, shaped my outlook on the world, and reinforced what family means to me. 

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