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Once in a House On Fire
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Once in a House On Fire

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  1,003 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Andrea Ashworth's father died when she was five leaving her, her three-year-old sister and mother to fend for themselves. A succession of stepfathers, some violent and an itinerant life of poverty were her lot but reading was her escape route out of misery.
Paperback, 327 pages
Published 1999 by Picador (first published January 1st 1998)
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This may sound counterintuitive, but because I want to encourage readership, I’m going to write a bad review of a good book. Or, perhaps, a plain, boring review isn’t all bad. Simple words can be good. Especially if they are words of praise.

Being somewhat of a “memoir connoisseur,” as of late, I have come to instantly categorize most memoirs into particular categories. There is the Wrecked Home Life/Horrific Childhood memoir (think A Child Called It or Angela’s Ashes or even A Long Way Gone). Th

It is such a weird thing to witness the process of People's lives going to pieces, knowing that it happens every Day in a street nearby somewhere, also knowing that most people are not as gifted, lucky or as strong as this protagonist who lived through it and managed to not flounder and go under. What wrecks people so? Fear of loneliness seems to be the explanation. This reading made me appreciate that I was never that someone living a life of abuse, violence and poverty in a street nearby.
I remember being really affected by this at the time - an account of a terrible childhood, but then the genre was new and this was fairly unusual. Now every other book is about being an abused child & surviving, and isn't it getting all too boring? However I don't blame this book which has a poetic heart. Some lovely writing.
This really is a misery memoir; Nigel Slater lived a life of Riley compared to Andrea Ashworth. It's a tough read -- you feel angry with her mother and successive stepfathers for being such inadequate and dangerous parents, but at the same time you have to feel sorry for them. Andrea's mother was clearly incapable of bringing up children on her own, having not grown up emotionally herself. But she was also incapable of choosing the right person to help her, and in the deprived milieu in which sh ...more
This memoir is essentially an old story about childhood abuse, written from a child's point of view. However, it's a beautifully written poetic book approached with such clarity and maturity, I found it compelling and read it in one day. The tactile descriptions of small moments experienced, gave weight and power to the prose. If anyone needs an exercise in showing and not telling, study this book. In the opening chapter, a seemingly cheerful description of the families situation, became laden w ...more
This unique book describes the early years of the author. Both heart breaking and lively, this book is a delight and moving, with the people's lives stuck inside me afterwards. I really praise the author for writing this unique telling of hope, love and hurting.

In one word this book is: Powerful. I would recommend this to someone who doesn't mind strong language and true stories from a different perspective.
"A poem was a box for your soul. That was the point. It was the place where you could save bits of your self, and shake out your darkest feelings without worrying that people would think you were strange."
Autobiography of a girl growing up in 1970's Manchester. For such a depressing story it is really compelling - and being a similar age, alot of the references are very meaningful to me.
Rosevilla Sevilla
The book is a memoir of Andrea Ashworth as an abused child. I picked the book because I always find biography's interesting. The whole story is about Andrea Ashworth's childhood when her father died, her mom found a new guy. At first the guy turned out to be o.k. but soon he starts getting violent. They moved to Canada so they could find better opportunities and they did, but the abusiveness of their step dad drove Andrea, her sisters, and her mom back to England. Their step dad tries to apologi ...more
Khadija Jamal
Had first picked up this book with no idea what it was all about; a young girl's life story as she grows up in a household embroiled in domestic violence and abuse. Add to this a vicous cycle of poverty and the taboos and social stigmas attached to DV, and you end up with a heart wrenching read, which easily stirs up anger at the injustices of life and a determination to immediately get out and help anyone in a similar situation. The same book however also points out quite poignantly to the comp ...more
Ella Whiddett

So, I did my work experience for a literary agency in London - they represent authors such as Patrick Ness, Derek Landy, Jeff Noon, Elizabeth Cook - and once upon a time - Andrea Ashworth. On my last day, one of the agents gave me a few free books, and amoung them - this gem. He told me that it was a memoir of Ashworth's life, but instead of being mainstream non-fiction, it was beautifully written and very literary. Thinking it would be a variation of a 'Mummy...' book, I decided to get it ove

I remember a few years back my mother remarking that there was a whole section of her local Waterstones entitled 'difficult lives' and thinking, hmm, cheerful place this world, I guess I can treat that in much the same way as the 'new age/spirituality' section and pretend it doesn't exist.

And yet I ended up picking up Andrea Ashworth's memoir all the same, largely because Blake Morrison had written a glowing review. And I'm glad I did - a tale of domestic abuse and the grimness of life on the do
Unfairly bracketed into the generally abysmal 'misery memoir' category by some, this is first and foremost an absolutely beautiful piece of writing. The quality of Ashworth's prose, her incredible skill at weaving her experiences into a compelling and gorgeously detailed narrative, sometimes makes it easy to forget this is actually a true story. Despite the unhappiness the author endured, the bits that have stuck in my memory most vividly are those describing her struggles with the ordinary stuf ...more
I wish I could say that I started getting into this book because I just so happened to come across it one day, but it was one of the books recommended to me for my next module of study; life writing. I'm happy that this was the book I chose to read first; Andrea poured her soul into this book, sharing intimate and horrifying truths about her life growing up in a "house on fire". Depression, poverty, abuse and awkward teenage experiences, this book was so open, that I felt almost glued to her lif ...more
Carol Harrison
This powerful memoir, even as it repels and appalls the reader, is a confirmation of the resilience of the human spirit. The domestic violence that the three young sisters witness and are victims of, seems never-ending and causes them to become the caretakers of their own mother and the "glue" that keeps the family from falling apart completely. Despite this constant, repetitive stress, the oldest child (the author) excels at school and eventually is accepted at Oxford; the middle daughter also ...more
Sin Tien Tan
It's an interesting bildungsroman. However, it contains way too many British informal for me to really enjoy it. If you're not a native English speaker and do not mind picking up the dictionary every now and then, go ahead and discover a powerful story of survival and hope.
Ashworth is honest and brave in this compelling, raw memoir of her traumatic childhood. Even the toughest hearts will be moved by her bittersweet story.
This is what storytelling is all about. One of my all time favourite books. Just read it, you will be better for it.
Tracy Lynch
I rarely if ever read autobiographies and this one deals with the appalling, brutal violence the author endured at the hands of first one stepfather then another. Came away from the book angry that the author's mother allowed this to go on for years and amazed the children in the family achieved outwardly at least, a normal life. Understand the difficulties faced by women trying to leave violent relationships but the mother in this book had support and several opportunities to protect her daught ...more
Fran Hedges
This is one of my all time favourites.well written and very meaningful due to the experiences of the author - who emerged triumphant.
I think I liked the title of the book best!

Domestic violence in Manchester. Unrelenting but interesting and captivating.
I like to read books by women about their lives, growing up, and how it shaped them. This one was really good, it reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle except it was much sadder. There was a lot of physical abuse and depression, and love was in short supply, though not wholey absent. Much of this novel was written in English slang that I have never heard before. That was interesting. The author writes out all the conversations in slang too, like, shuddup ay eat summat like yer quavers. Stuff lik ...more
Noise Incapacitant
I still remember how much of a drag it was to get to the end of this miserable memoir.
Mar 31, 2012 Diane rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: mymap
I was totally absorbed by this account of a resilient young girl and her familys' struggles. I guess we don't know what we're capable of withstanding until we are faced with it but this girl, now woman, put up with and saw far more than any one should. I wanted to scream at her mother for not being emotionally as strong as her daughter. When reached the end it was a relief but I need to know what happened after. Reading the acknowledgements at the end brought tears to my eyes-I'm not sure why bu ...more
Mar 08, 2014 Katie added it
Read this as part of a course at college. Don't remember if I liked it or not.
i first got this book in a charity shop for free and i tell you now that after reading it in ny eyes it is worth millions. it captures my past and present perfectly and i feel that the author steals every emotion i have felt throughout my life and has made a marvellous and enticing book out of it. this book is one of the books i hope to carry with ne throughout my life as inspiration and a constant memory of how bad life can get and how the most smart and good people can emerge from such and env ...more
Maria Daines
I read this a long time ago and despite my terribly bad memory I've never forgotten the title and how it made me feel. I never read books twice but I may just find this again so I can try to say something clever about it. I bought several copies and sent them to friends because I wanted everyone to own it and take it to heart. Andrea Ashworth's writing is like being made to be a good listener when you really want to join in and have your say but you can't. You simply must sit still and watch the ...more
What a wonderful book! A memoir of her childhood that ends with her departure to Oxford for university. Her biological father died when she was 5, and her mother then remarried two successive abusive husbands. Both of them also go after the kids, but apparently not as much as their mother. It's a horrifying picture of what it was like living in a household with no future, one where you could be assaulted for turning pages in a book too loudly, too fast, or just for reading! I can't explain how m ...more
Meldi Arkinstall
A beautifully written but confronting book.
I've had this book for ages but only just picked it up to read and I wish I'd read it sooner. An incredibly moving and inspirational account of Andrea (Andy)'s own life, growing up in the 70s and 80s. Heartbreaking, sad, violent, traumatic, but also positive, funny and full of hope. Andrea recalls with such clarity and precision the minutiae of the era, my era! Everyone should read this book, truly inspiring. In fact I'm off to read it again.
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Dr. Ashworth, born in England in 1969, is one of the youngest research Fellows at Oxford University, where she earned her doctorate.

Her choice of nonfiction as her first work was a matter of wanting to deal with her past, and then be able to move on to writing fiction. She is currently working on her first novel. "I wanted to get my memories out because I wanted to pin them down, so that all thos
More about Andrea Ashworth...
Principled Sentencing: Second Edition Once in a House on Fire Reading Group Guide Once in a House On Fire - Children's Edition Wide Sargasso Sea

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“A poem was a box for your soul. That was the point. It was the place where you could save bits of yourself, and shake out your darkest feelings, without worrying that people would think you were strange. While I was writing, I would forget myself and everyone else; poetry made me feel part of something noble and beautiful and bigger than me. [...] I slid them under the carpet as soon as they were done, all the images and rhymes wrestled into place. By the time I had copied them out, I found I had memorized every line. Then they would surprise me by surging through me, like songs I knew by heart.” 11 likes
“At school, I couldn't help but grin.
At home, something ripped under my skin when I smiled, trying to pretend that everything was fine. Deadly moods lurked in a purple-white haze, smoke clinging to the curtains, turning stale overnight.”
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