Flares, family and T-Rex

22nd July 2011 at 01:00

All Made Up

By Janice Galloway

Granta, Hardback, 16.99

3 out of 5

How much grimmer would growing up in early 1970s Ayrshire have been without T Rex and Billie Jean King for company? In All Made Up, Janice Galloway's memoir of her teenage years, a harsh and stringent home life is only relieved by watching Top of the Tops, Wimbledon and The Wednesday Play.

At the start of this follow-up to This Is Not About Me (2008), Galloway is 12, still sharing a bed with her mother, and at the mercy of her resentful and deeply-damaged older sister Cora. The journey to adulthood takes in sexual awakening, accidental overdoses, small-town prejudices and lashings of mascara. It is charted vividly and always with a sharp wit, but - like one's own adolescence - by the end, you may feel relieved the trip is over.

Galloway's salvation lies in school. Latin classes are an early passion, but English and drama are spoilt by teachers' obsession with exam prep. It is music that transforms her, and her music teacher who lights the fire in her learning.

An eccentric Cumbrian fond of corduroy, jokes and winning orchestral trophies, Mr Hetherington reveals to his S3 class the true artform- straddling, history-making, internationalising breadth of his subject. Inspired, Galloway joins an orchestra, finds her voice and her escape route to university and adulthood. It is in these sections about the impact of music on the author that the memoir sings.

Descriptions of emerging teenage sexuality are handled with elegance and humour. Aged 15, proximity to boys has produced "an unexpectedly frisky array of chemicals at work under my touch-paper skin, ready to catch at the slightest spark . The body I'd been so wary of acquiring was flexing its extremities, sending semaphore without my say-so."

The author may be describing adolescent experience only 40 years ago, but the details reveal how much has changed in the interim. The life of a female secondary pupil in early '70s Scotland was one where the anxieties and advantages of child protection were off the radar, consumerism was defined by trips to Woolworths and "social media" meant reading Jackie magazine.

Galloway immerses herself in her own past, evoking the teenage mindset in granular, sometimes hilarious, detail. Sent home on the last day of school for wearing trousers, she admits they were "22-inch flares in black crepe from Camp;A - so at least they were trousers of distinction".

At the heart of the book there is a sense of sadness about her mother and sister, and the father she lost when she was five. The resolution of her relationship with her sister at the end, when Galloway has a baby boy, is particularly moving.

Galloway is possessed of a memory "as sharp as a packet of razor blades", according to her mother - but ultimately here that has its downside. She evokes her family, friendships and home town so acutely that it can feel stifling. The world Galloway summons back in All Made Up is long gone - and it can sometimes feel like a daunting one for the reader to return to.

Janice Galloway will talk about `All Made Up' at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 26 August, 11.30am

About the Author

Janice Galloway is an award-winning author of novels and short stories. The first volume of her autobiography, This is Not About Me, won the 2009 Scottish Book of the Year Award for non-fiction. She was a teacher for 10 years.

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