Remember Each Peach Pear Plum, The Jolly Postman, and the infamous Burglar Bill? Many of us grew up with the books of Allan Ahlberg, one of our best-loved children’s writers. June brings his 80th birthday, and a celebratory review is definitely in order. I’ve chosen the lesser known but very lovely, My Brother’s Ghost, the story of a girl’s 1950’s childhood, enlivened by the ghostly guardian figure of her dead brother.
Frances Fogarty is our thoughtful narrator. Looking back at her childhood from middle age, she introduces us to her older brother Tom, and little brother Harry. Tragically orphaned, the siblings are taken in by Auntie Marge and Uncle Stan. Life has ground down Auntie Marge’s spirit and made her careworn and casually cruel. There is no room in her heart for Frances, Tom and Harry, but luckily they have each other. Until one day they don’t. Running impulsively into the road one morning, Tom is struck by a milk float and instantly killed.
The funeral takes place four days later, and this is where the story takes on a supernatural hue. Tom seems unable to let go of this earthbound life, and shows up at his own graveside, all puzzlement and unbrushed hair.
My graceful, quiet, clever brother. But then again, not quite my brother now. It was my brother’s ghost.
There is such poignancy in this beautifully written book. Tom appears randomly, often to be found at his siblings’ side during bleak moments, a ‘…curious shimmering, shivering at the edges of him,’ a sense that part of him is elsewhere. Fog, rain and lowering skies provide a recurring backdrop, the weather mirroring the nebulous nature of events. Even the street lights are hazy, shining ‘in the damp air smudgingly, ‘the atmosphere sulphurous from the 1950’s factories and coal fires.
It’s lump-in-the-throat time as the story plays out. My Brother’s Ghost will linger in your mind long after you turn the final page.
My Brother’s Ghost is published by Puffin, 80 pages.