Bridie's alcoholism isn't pretty; it breaks up her marriage and often leaves the young Ida to look after her little sister, Alice, all alone. Ida tries to reassure herself:
Things were nearly always fine, and if they weren't at least it would be an adventure.Amy Mason's debut novel, The Other Ida, zips back and forth between childhood and a 'present day' setting of 1999. Now Ida's almost thirty and a mess herself; living in a squalid bedsit in London, she's abusing just about every substance she can lay her hands on. Bridie has died and Ida needs to get back home to Bournemouth for the funeral.
Home means confronting all the problems she ran away to escape; her difficult relationship with Alice, and her father's new life with her perfumed step-mother. Most of all, it means dealing with the long shadow of the play Ida's named after; the one her mother wrote before she was born:
She was almost asleep,...,when she realised what was wrong. It was so simple she could hardly believe it. She was the play, wasn't she? It wasn't just her stupid name. And if it was so terrible, so irrelevant, then what on earth was she?Finding out about the other Ida in the play may help uncover the troubling secrets of her mother's life, but will Ida be able to cope with the discoveries she's about to make?
Real-life Ida isn't the easiest person to love; at first, like the passengers on the coach taking her back home, you might be tempted to give her a wide berth. She's dirty and smelly and she wets the bed when drunk. She's well on her way to becoming the female equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson, starring in her own version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Fear and Loathing in Bournemouth, anyone?
But, as you get to know Ida, you begin to realise she's avoiding a script that's already been written. That she's no good with boundaries because, as a child, she never had any.
Amy Mason won the 2014 Dundee International Book Prize with this, her debut novel. Her writing is full of incisive observation and she's created a gritty, funny and layered story in which key events in fiction are mirrored by reality and repeat themselves across the generations. By baring Ida's soul, Mason does a great job of making you understand and care for her.
Occasionally, a character will leap off the page of a novel with such vitality, you can almost reach out and touch them. By the end of The Other Ida, I just wanted to grab brave, wild, lost, endearing Ida Irons with both hands and give her a great big hug.
Thanks to Cargo Publishing for the review copy. Pictures courtesy of Cargo Publishing and Amy Mason.