Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 224 pages; 2006.
Christine Dwyer Hickey’s Tatty has to be one of the most entertaining, if somewhat harrowing, books I have read about childhood in a long time and I quickly devoured it in the space of 24 hours.
Reminiscent of Roddy Doyle’s Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, it tells the story of a young girl growing up in Dublin, spanning the years 1964 to 1974.
Tatty, who acquired her name as an abbreviation of “tell-tale-tattler”, is a lonely little girl who makes up stories to gain attention. But because she is the apple of her father’s eye, this “alliance” incurs the wrath of her quick-tempered and cruel mother.
Narrated by Tatty, we get shocking but brutally honest glimpses of the unravelling marriage between her beloved but reckless father, who lives to bet on the horses, and her unhappy mother, who is suffering (undiagnosed) depression and drowning her sorrows in booze.
Caught in the middle of this maelstrom are Tatty and her five siblings, the oldest of which is mentally handicapped. When Tatty escapes to boarding school, it seems like she may be protected from the fallout of her family’s disintegration, but if anything, it just makes the differences between her safe, secure life at school and the confused, disturbed one at home all that more apparent — and difficult to deal with.
The beauty of this story is Dwyer Hickey’s ability to get inside the head of a little girl. Tatty’s voice is so real, so authentic you feel as if she is a living, breathing being that you long to protect.
The writing deftly treads a fine line between tragedy and comedy. It’s by no means sappy or sentimental, but it is incredibly moving and, at times, tear-inducing.
I loved this book so much that when I came to the last page I felt totally bereft, not because the ending was unexpected (it wasn’t), but because I had grown to know Tatty so well I feared for her future and didn’t want to leave her behind.