The landscape is northern England at the fag-end of the 1970s. Jack is a small boy with hopes for a pleasantly dull life reading about Ursa Major in his astronomy books. Unfortunately the other denizens of 59 Parma Street, Bolton, Lancashire, have different ideas. Mum Evie is a fraught but chirpy, neurotic but determined "weenie", a large-hearted local girl with too-much-love-to-give. Dad Joey is a thwarted singer, an Elvis manque, a boozy, bruising, generous, kooky, romantically minded Lancastrian geezer whose determination to make it big in the world, and if not there then in the seamier sides of the northern club circuit, has the whole family and half the street in stitches by page 25, and despair by page 100. Thereafter it’s a swift and entertaining descent into wry defeat and unquiet resignation, with a visit or two to Brittany for some variation on the quixotic theme.
Holes can be picked in this book. The plotting is not breathtakingly complex. The dialogue is sometimes rather too believable--too everyday. And the denouement is not going to knock any reader's socks off. But such is the sheer affection that Jenkins’s lavishes on this self-portrait of her hometown (she’s from Bolton) and homelife (she’s a 70s kid), these faults don’t seem to matter. It is a ruefully funny, satisfyingly bittersweet tale. --Sean Thomas