Andrea Ashworth's father stopped on the way home from work one night to take a leak. He slipped in some mud, hit his head on a rock and drowned face-down in a stream less than four inches deep. Andrea was five years old; her sister was three; her mother was twenty-five.
This was the beginning of a new life for Andrea: a succession of stepfathers, often violent; a poverty-stricken itinerant childhood spent with various relations all over Manchester; a brief emigration to Canada. Her mother was prone to black depressions, and Andrea frequently found herself looking after her younger sister and step-sister. She learned to escape through reading anything she could get her hands on.
Once, in a House on Fire is a remarkable memoir of a child's resistance to the cruelty of her surroundings. It is shocking in its immediacy, as well as for the clarity and beauty of Andrea Ashworth's prose.