Most of all, however, this memoir is an acknowledgment that love demands a price. As a child, Hodge loved her father with an intensity that not only ignored his flaws but also gilded them with a tarnished glamour. Now, as an adult, she admits, “he damaged people and that damage lives on even though he has gone”.
Yet, as this wise and moving memoir makes clear, if you are prepared to meet the price – to accept unflinchingly all the different parts that live within you, both beautiful and ugly, and to acknowledge that others see and love them, too – then the rewards are worth the heartache.
Hodge shows tender patience towards her forlorn mother, but finds her religion hard to stomach. Her father was easier. “He never required me to be honest, only complicit, which is much more fun, and fun is what you think you need when the world is falling down around you.” But Gavin always confided too much about his “dormant sex beast”. His love for his dead daughter is juxtaposed with his corrupting of little lost girls to whom he was happy to supply drugs. At times Hodge’s devotion to her amoral father seems delusional — but there is something poignant in her need to extract something of value from the damage he inflicts.
The structure is technically ambitious, with chapters jumping between past and present with tenses to match, and Hodge pulls it off in style. At one stage she bravely conducts a journalistic interview with her formerly alcoholic mother as she finds it is the only way she can ask difficult questions...
Tolstoy tells us that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and here is a compelling anatomy of one family’s unique implosion. There are scenes that will reduce you to tears, but there’s also humour, forgiveness and uplifting optimism. Hodge says she hates the word survivor, but by the end of this dazzling debut you just want to give her a huge cheer for coming through.