In this section:
Shortlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award
Observer Best Debut Novels of the Year 2009
London Evening Standard Best Books of the Year 2009
Portsmouth, 1984. Thirteen-year-old Jake’s world is unravelling as his father and older brother leave home, and his mother plunges into alcoholic freefall.
Despite his turbulent home life, Jake is an irrepressible teenager and his troubled mother is not the only thing on his mind: there’s the hi-fi he’s saving up for, his growing passion for Greek mythology (and his pretty classics teacher), and the anticipation of brief visits to see his dad. When his parents reconcile, life finally seems to be looking up. Their first family holiday, announced over scampi and chips in the Royal Oak, promises to be the icing on the cake – until long-unspoken family secrets begin to surface.
Isabel Ashdown’s début novel tells a captivating story of family life, at once troubling, funny and joyous. Vividly bringing to life the gentility of a 1950s childhood, the free-spirited hedonism of the Sixties, and the urban domesticity of 1980s Portsmouth, this is an intimate, lyrical and deeply moving portrait of a family crumbling under the weight of past mistakes.
Tender and subtle, it explores difficult issues in deceptively easy prose... Across the decades, Ashdown tiptoes carefully through explosive family secrets. This is a wonderful debut – intelligent, understated and sensitive.
An intelligent, beautifully observed coming-of-age story, packed with vivid characters and inch-perfect dialogue. Isabel Ashdown's storytelling skills are formidable; her human insights highly perceptive.
Isabel Ashdown’s first novel is a disturbing, thought-provoking tale of family dysfunction, spanning the second half of the 20th century, that guarantees laughter at the uncomfortable familiarity of it all.
I love it. It’s a book that’s very fast and really rewarding for the reader. There’s a wrenching end to the first chapter that switches the mood and absolutely hooked me for the rest of the book.
An immaculately written novel with plenty of dark family secrets and gentle wit within. Recommended for book groups.
It’s an incredibly convincing boy’s voice; an incredibly convincing woman’s voice. It’s very subtle, and subtlety is the key to this. The tragedy is happening behind the words and behind what people are saying, and you could be forgiven for wanting to read it again to catch all the nuances. It reminded me of Iain Banks. If you enjoyed The Crow Road, you’ll get lots out of this book.
This stirring coming-of-age novel evokes the strictures of the '50s and the tacky flamboyance of the '80s brilliantly. Narrated through 13-year-old Jake's eyes, it's a heartbreaking redemptive tale of family secrets that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster. Arm yourselves with a box of Kleenex as you'll be weeping into your pillow by the end.
In Jake, Ashdown has created a beautifully realised character, totally believable as a 20th-century boy but imbued with qualities which should resonate with any reader and will surely stand the test of time...The prose is succinct and smooth, the dialogue crisp and convincing. An intriguing, atmospheric read with a healthy dollop of realism.
Skillfully written and difficult to put down...this novel is a page-turningly good read.
Tell friends and family you have gone away, take the phone off the hook and be prepared to be completely immersed in the lives of Jake and Mary. I've just lost the last two days to this wonderful novel and I've loved every second of it. Jake, in particular, really hit the spot with me, from his love of cold November days and Greek mythology, his thoughts on Joey Deacon and Thundercats, through to some moments of real heartbreak. All beautifully conveyed by the author.
A beautifully poignant, multi-layered family story. There is glorious detail in the writing which renders it truly memorable. [And] I was very impressed by the masterful handling of the chronology and the weaving of the two different points of view in the story as it rushes towards its climax.
The beauty of Ashdown's writing is that readers are able to connect to the real characters presented and understand that life isn't always all that easy...her character representations, no matter what sex or age, are flawless, and her descriptions of small hometowns and country and beachside holidays create superb images to match the story...It's hard to know who to recommend this to without encouraging everyone to go out and buy it. Ashdown is a definite one to watch for in British literature.
Glasshopper is the kind of novel that stays with you, or rather the characters and their little quirks do. Adolescent Jake is very vivid and seeing the story unfold through his eyes parallel to his mum Mary’s story works very well. The pain of growing up is captured beautifully in both cases. What I really like is that Isabel Ashdown has managed to keep a lot of family secrets buried under the surface, and yet those secrets are what drives me as a reader forward. Nothing is ever spelt out; events are implied and it’s satisfying to work things out for yourself. The end is totally unexpected and lifts the story.
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The writing is reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell, so anyone who loves her books is sure to enjoy this one.
Isabel Ashdown reads from and discusses Glasshopper at a fundraising dinner for NACOA, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, May 2012.
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Isabel aboard the St Clair ferry where she signed copies between two of the novel's key locations, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.