It's the summer of 1975, and the UK is sweating through a heatwave. Maggie's mother has recently died and her father is in the USA, so the thirteen year old girl goes to live with her grandfather, Arthur, whom she calls Pop, and his dog, Blowbroth, in Sutton Coldfield. Pop's raison d'etre is the approaching annual pub quiz, which he hopes to win so he can impress a woman. Maggie is a quiet child, but helps him train, following her grandfather from pub to pub...
...and that's about it. There is painfully little plot to this novel, and the revelations about the characters do not make up for it for me. The writing contains some great imagery, and evokes the smoky, hot atmosphere really well. The various characters in the village are believable. Pop is very well characterised. Maggie, on the other hand, isn't. She doesn't seem like a real thirteen-year-old girl. There are no hormones, no periods, she doesn't express any desire to meet other people her age. The action follows her, but is always about other people. She is meant to be the central character, but the novel's title is very telling - the story is really about her grandfather. Maggie is an neutral observer, she lacks opinion, a character of her own. She doesn't even wonder about her own future, something I would imagine would be a prime concern for a young person who has just lost their mother. I could understand her silence if she was traumatised - but she doesn't appear to be that way either.
This is very well written. But when I was done, I wondered what the point was. The climaxes of the storyline are scenes with little impact upon the characters. It's a slice of life - but I wonder why it was sliced, what the author wanted to tell us. It reminds me of a lot of short stories that I have read and not got on with. My brain seems to need a proper plot to cling to, most of the time, otherwise I just won't "get" the story and will find it ultimately frustrating.
I would only recommend this book if you want to read some nice description as I didn't get much out of it at all. If you do get more out of those plotless short stories than I do, you might enjoy this. Let me know what you think!