Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Shadowing The Carnegie Award

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle 

Twelve year old Mary O’Hara thinks that her life is heartbreaking. Her very best friend has moved away and she does not want to try and face up to this separation. Her beloved granny is seriously ill in hospital and although she cares very much for the old lady she hates visiting the hospital with its strange smells, noises and sick people. Even the name of the hospital, “The Sacred Heart” frightens her. Soon Mary will be thirteen and although in many ways she already feels like a teenager she worries about this too. She feels distant from her older brothers and fears becoming like them. Then one day while walking home from school Mary meets a lady, a stranger. Her mother has told her not to speak to strangers but there is something about the woman that Mary finds familiar. Within days the reason for this familiarity becomes clear; she is Mary’s great grandmother, Tansey,  who died many years ago at a young age and is in fact a ghost.  Tansey did not live to see her children grow up and she now needs Mary’s help to carry out her last task as a mother.

Mary and her own mother Scarlett ( yes, Scarlett O’Hara!) plan to take Tansey to visit her daughter, now a frail elderly lady approaching death in hospital. Subsequently the women from across four generations of the same family decide to undertake one last journey together back to the original family farm where Tansey died. This charming ghost story covers the big issues of life and death but I feel that it is chiefly about the bond between women across the generations and their relationships with each other. The dialogue between the women is wonderful conveying warmth, humour and love. I also thought that the kindly family banter of Mary, her parents and her brothers felt realistic. Tansey is a very engaging character being matter-fact in attitude but with a strong sense of humour too. I would have liked to have got to know Emer better but the way in which the story moved backwards and forwards in time resulted in me feeling that just as I was getting to know one character the book moved on to another. I imagine that the author wanted to concentrate on the strong bonds between the women but this does mean that the male characters feel very peripheral to the story. This is a children’s book that I doubt very much would appeal to boys. However female readers of Mary’s age or even a little younger would probably enjoy this story and empathise with Mary. In addition to its value as a work of fiction, since it deals with the subject of death in a positive manner this book would be useful to have in a school library for this reason too.

Although I do think that this is a lovely story, with likable characters, great dialogue and gentle humour, for some reason I did not feel a personal connection with the book as a whole. The reading experience is not just about reading the words on the page, it is affected by the place in which you are reading, your mood when you read a book and your expectations too. Perhaps that is why this particular book wouldn’t be my personal Carnegie winner. I had read highly favourable reviews and the wonderful Frank Cottrell Boyce described Tansey as “the best ghost since Christmas Past” so perhaps my expectations were just too high. Also I read the book over a busy weekend so maybe settling down undisturbed and reading this book in one sitting would have been wiser. For me A Greyhound of a Girl was a very enjoyable read but not an outstanding one.


  1. Like you Anne, I didn't connect with the book overall. The boys on the periphery was a curiosity that seemed a bit too out of place. I think Tansey may be the best ghost and I really enjoyed the dialogue. Parts of the story are really funny and of course, it's tinged with sadness. Unlike you, I read it undisturbed in one sitting - but I got fidgety. I also read it before it was shortlisted.

  2. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed very much but overall I didn't engage with it emotionally. I haven't been able to work out why. Like you I became fidgety. It's fascinating learning what others think about the shortlisted books and I don't envy the judges!