'In the summer of 1939, as a two-year-old in London, I was given away by my parents to a Chelsea friend and taken on the Irish Mail to Dublin.'Thus begins this extraordinary memoir by travel writer and novelist Joseph Hone, one of eight children farmed out by impecunious and inebriate parents, who was raised at Maidenhall in County Kilkenny by the historian and essayist Hubert Butler and his wife Peggy, sister of Tyrone Guthrie of Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan. The story is told through a cache of letters discovered on Hubert Butler's death between him and his friend 'Old Joe', Little Joe's grandfather and biographer of Yeats and George Moore, upon whom fell the financial responsibility for his grandson's upbringing. This account of his childhood and youth during the 1940s and 50s in rural Ireland among the privileged and artistic elite of his generation living down-at-heel if comfortable lives in a newly emergent state, is an enthralling reminder of the happenstance and precariousness of all our lives.Like William Trevor, Joe was boarded out at Sandford Park in Dublin and then at St Columba's, both of which he documents in loving and comic detail, gaining as much stimulation from his home environment as from the excesses and disappointments of these single-sex establishments.
He writes with feeling and insight of the lives of those in his circle and beyond - his teachers and foster parents and friends - working as an assistant for John Ford during the making of "The Quiet Man", and finding himself as the writer he was to become.This luminous work of autobiography and self-interrogation bears comparison with Nabokov's "Speak Memory" or Frank O'Connor's "An Only Child". It will take its place as a classic of the genre while illuminating unknown corners of Ireland's cultural landscape.
Joe Hone is the author of eight novels, including The Private Sector, Summer Hill and Firebird, and four books of travel writing, from The Dancing Waiters to Duck Soup in the Black Sea, both of which gather material commissioned during his time as overseas correspondent for the BBC. He now lives and teaches in Oxfordshire in England.