It is rare that I choose a book written by a politician, but I’m very glad that this one caught my eye. I had seen Alan Johnson being interviewed about this memoir of his early years in London and wondered how he eventually became a cabinet minister in the Labour Governments of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He described his home in Southam Street in North Kensington; it is hard to believe that slums like this still existed in the mid 20th century. However, what really piqued my curiosity was the fact that Alan Johnson began, in his interview, to mention places that I had known as a child. I had to read this book!
I was enthralled by this memoir. Johnson’s writing flows and he has the ability to paint pictures with his choice of vocabulary. It was easy to imagine him, as a young boy, battling with the poverty that surrounded him. His father abandoned his wife, daughter and son for another woman, leaving Lily Johnson to wear herself out, trying to provide for her young family. Linda, Alan’s older sister, offered real strength and support to their mother and one has to admire her, especially after the death of their mother. Linda’s fight to maintain a home with her brother, Alan, is quite amazing.
There are no real indications in this memoir that Alan Johnson will go on to be a prominent politician, but it is such an interesting book. As I said earlier, I have a personal interest and there were many times that I exclaimed at the mention of another occurrence or place that I knew so well. It seems that we both attended the Royalty cinema to watch Saturday morning pictures; the library in Ladbroke Grove was introduced to both of us at an early age….and there were many other instances. There is also much to interest anyone studying the social history of London life in the 1950s and 1960s.
All in all, I thoroughly recommend this absorbing memoir.