Van has finished reading…What A Way To Go by Julia Forster

20 Jan

The end of term two of the Curtis Brown Book Group brings us Julia Forster’s What A Way to Go. Twelve-year-old Harper Richardson is navigating life, cuddling gerbils, managing her divorced parents and avoiding baked beans. And as it’s 1988, she never misses the Radio 1 Top 40 show, she barters down the price of a shell-suit at the local market and she rushes to check the second post before Mum. Second post – can you imagine! It’s a heart-warming story that is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always true to its time.
I wanted to connect with Harper more strongly than I did but something held me off (maybe the Chambers dictionary, I never would’ve trusted a twelve-year-old with a dictionary). She’s a funny kid in her way, and she’s feisty, though not overly-so. And Thank Morten Harkett, she’s sensible enough to know what’s good for her parents and that might not be each other. In fact it was in those more desperate moments that I felt for her, and felt closer to her. It didn’t bring a tear to my eye – though it was close a couple of times – and I think that’s all about that early impression. In essence this is how we judge a book, any book: how connected to the characters did I feel? For me, there’s something in Harper’s humour that held me off.
The cast are well-drawn and varied and I suspect recognisable to anyone old enough to remember. Although it’s Harper’s view of the world I think I took to Derek most of all and I’m now looking forward (Julia, hint-hint) to Derek’s Early-Nineties Vidal Adventure.

People dis the 80’s. They dis the 80’s now in the way they used to dis the 70’s, which condenses the decade down to the awful fashion and the awful music. Through Harper’s eyes I’ve seen enough to concede that, at least as far as the fashion goes, the 80’s had sufficient man-made fibres to be terrible. But there was some great music in the 80’s.
Okay, so not much of it surfaces in Julia Forster’s What A Way To Go (The Primitives, Adam Ant) but that’s true to form. It’s in looking back that we often find the gems nestled among the every-day. And what else would a twelve-year-old have done than imbibe the catechism that was the Sunday night chart run-down, for better or for worse (the latter, obvs). As to the fashion, Harper has a forensic eye for her mum’s night-out wardrobe in all its terrifying glory.
There’s that undercurrent too, suitably subtle, bearing in mind we’re living through a twelve-year-old, of the teeth of Thatcherism really starting to tear the flesh. The bank manager is a necessary enemy, the landlord is Ming The Merciless and all Mary needs is a plan that will work. That desperation was real enough then and it comes through all too clearly in the novel.

I didn’t feel it to the extent of the book jacket superlatives but Julia Forster’s What a Way To Go is funny and touching and sad. It has a great cast and an engaging story with enough turns to make you feel the breadth of Harper’s journey.

What A Way To Go was published by Atlantic on 7th January 2016 ISBN:9781782397526
You can find Julia on Twitter @WriterForster and on her website,


One Response to “Van has finished reading…What A Way To Go by Julia Forster”


  1. The #CBBookGroupie playlist | vanisreading - 09/02/2016

    […] Theme, What A Way To Go by Julia […]

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