Oxblood By Tom Benn – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: 28th April 2022

When I read that Oxblood by Tom Benn was set in Wythenshawe near Manchester which is very close to where I live I knew I wanted to read it.

Set in between the 1960’s and 1980’s Oxblood tells the story of the notorious Dodds family. We have Nedra who is the matriarch and widow of Jim Dodds. She is living with Carol her daughter in law and widow of her son Sefton. Carol has two children, Kelly her 23 year old son, fresh out of Strangeways prison and her 15 year old tearway daughter Jan, who has just given birth to a very much unwanted baby.

These three generations of Dodds live together without the two main men of the family after they are killed when their car is run off the road. The two men were prominent in the Manchester underworld and have paid the price for their criminal connections. Nedra and Carol have to succeed their dead husbands and live under the shadow of their reputations and violent acts.

Nedra is the homemaker trying to keep the family together. She is the areas most popular dinnerlady and takes in all the local waifs and strays, feeds them and makes sure they get to and from school safely.

Carol is very disillusioned and in her daughter Jan’s words ‘lives in her own head’. Carol is mourning the loss of the true love of her life, Vern a man who still visits her in ghost form, a man who lost his life at the hands of her husband Sefton. Carol doesn’t really have any interest in her children Kelly and Jan, and leaves the parenting to Nedra.

Then we have Jan, a girl who hits out at authority, sleeps around with the local boys and gets herself a reputation around the area. Nobody messes with Jan! But when she has a one night stand with a lad and then falls pregnant, Jan can’t bring herself to take any interest at all in her baby, leaving the day to day care to Carol.

This is a story of a dysfunctional family living under the shadow of its dead men. I love a good book about strong, northern working class women and this book is no exception despite the women having their own flaws. There is grit and determination and the struggle to carry on and remain stoic in the face of adversity.

All three of the women are standout characters and I know I won’t forget them in a hurry, women who live the legacy of the dead patriarchs who paid the price for their violent underworld actions. These women have to decide whether to accept their legacy or break away.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book with its familiar places and familiar voices. The Manchester dialect was a comfort to me and I identified with certain working class family traits (minus the criminal underworld part of course!). I Loved it and would throughly recommend it.

Thank you to Beth and Bloomsbury for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookishchat xx