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Once in a House on Fire


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At 28, Ashworth writes eloquently and passionately about her British (and, for a time, Canadian) childhood with her widowed mother and sisters, who are brutalized by the mother's two husbands. The author triumphs over the abuse, poverty and racial slurs directed at her and her middle sister, Laurie, because of their part-Maltese background, by writing poetry, keeping a journal and reading authors from Shakespeare to Judy Blume and D.H. Lawrence. Despite the violent battles in small, often borrowed rooms, Ashworth holds onto her spirits and excels academically in literature, science and art. As her story ends, she heads off to Oxford. This coming-of-age memoir stands out for its integrity, lack of self-pity, colorful Manchester dialect and realistic dialogue. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the sisters' love for "our mother," who is so fearful of being alone that she returns again and again to abusive men. Ashworth's story rings true, though it's a bit difficult to believe that anyone's memory could call up, word for word, the scores of mundane conversations that this family exchanged in its daily life over a dozen years. With degrees from Oxford and Yale, Ashworth holds a fellowship at Jesus College, Oxford, and is working on a first novel. 25,000 first printing; major ad/promo. (May)

This book marks the debut of a young writer from whom we will certainly hear more. The tone is British and understated, and the description of childhood violence at the hands of two stepfathers is mild compared to some recent memoirs-but this has the effect of making the book more rather than less compelling. We follow Ashworth's coming of age, see her clear-eyed but not unkind portrait of her mother, watch her discover learning and literature-and, in the end, gain acceptance to Oxford. That someone who is only 28 can have escaped such a life, attended Oxford and Yale, and become one of the youngest Fellows ever at Jesus College, Oxford, is remarkable enough. That she can have achieved the distance and art to produce such a memoir is enough to make many an older writer jealous. Recommended for all libraries.ÄMary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO

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