Kirkland Ciccone

(Fledgling Press, £10.99)


Even in the unglamorous surroundings of 1970s Falkirk, the young Sadie Relish can find magic anywhere. Moving into a damp, mouldy flat in Little Denny Road with her mother and sister, Lily, in the roasting summer of 1976, Sadie hasn’t much to look forward to but bullying at home, unpopularity at school and noisy feuds with the neighbours. But any book in which a little girl stands up and announces to her class, “When I grow up, I want to be a prostitute just like my mither,” isn’t going to be entirely devoid of joy and laughter.

Created by the Lanarkshire-based author of five previous novels, including the acclaimed Happiness is Wasted on Me, Sadie is a misfit who likes to spend her time at the library and believes that everyday life is underpinned by magic. She and her friend Gregor hang offerings in the branches of a tall tree the locals call Auld Sybil in the belief that it grants wishes, and when she learns of a local pond that is an unfeasibly bright blue she concludes that its hue must be of mystical origin.

That conceit gets harder to cling to as she reaches adolescence and faces the challenges of being a typical provincial teenager, with the additional embarrassment of a mother who, everybody around her knows, provides for her kids by going out on the “night shift”. Her mum, Mither, is an indomitable figure, a tough woman wreathed in cigarette smoke who is adept at getting rid of people she doesn’t like, whether they’re annoying neighbours or deadbeat boyfriends. “From a distance,” according to Sadie, “Mither came across like an amalgam of a mob enforcer and Dolly Parton.” She’s never better than when she attempts to get troublesome neighbours evicted by posting a petition in the stair claiming that they’re drug dealers whose “kids are forced to shite outside because their own toilets are blocked with drugs” and fakes the first few signatures herself.

Self-conscious, insecure, uncertain of the future and what she wants out of life, the teenage Sadie struggles to prevent her spirit being crushed, making plans that she hopes won’t end up collapsing and depositing her, yet again, back in her childhood bedroom. She discovers at an early age that alcohol can help numb the pain of her existence, and by the time she loses her virginity drunk at a party, with no memory of what happened, she doesn’t believe in spells any more. What she does retain is a belief in love, but that too will take a battering as the years go by.

The second half of the book is more subdued, as Sadie wrestles with the pressures of marriage and motherhood – the Rangers-obsessed father-in-law whose aversion to anything green extends to milk bottle tops is, however, a comic highlight – along with her thirst for retribution after a life-changing revelation.

A story of mothers, daughters, sisters, abusive fathers and friendships, it takes us to some dark places, but Sadie’s first-person narration sparkles with wry humour even at her lowest points. Her own occasional transgressions are easy to forgive, given how hard it’s been for her to come to terms with herself while not knowing who her father is – and then discovering that finding out who her father is is actually worse than not knowing.

By the time it’s occurred to us that Sadie, Call the Polis might actually be a meditation on revenge, we’ve been through so much with her that it’s a wrench to realise that this deeply affecting novel will soon be over.