SPECIAL by Anthony C Green 

  •  SPECIAL by Anthony C Green  special
  • Matador £7.99
  • ISBN 9781788033 442

Special is essentially the fictional biography of Annie Carter, born in Liverpool to a white mother and Jamaican father, told from the (her own) perspective of someone with an IQ of 70. The author uses his own experience of working within the field of Social Care for more than 20 years to reconstruct her life-story seen through her eyes. It provides an authentic insight into what is often a largely hidden world.

Annie was born in 1963 a (not “in the late 1950s” as stated on the back cover). The distinction is important. Philip Larkin`s poem Annus Mirabilis rings true to anyone who lived through the period:

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles` first LP”

The Chatterley ban ended in the autumn of 1960 and the Beatles` first LP came out in the spring of 1963. Larkin`s point is that there really were enormous changes in social attitudes between 1959 and the mid-1960s. In 1959-60 I taught children like Annie, from families who had moved from the Manchester slums of Collyhurst and Harpurhey to a nearby overspill housing estate. They were designated E.S.N. (Educationally Sub-Normal) but were taught in the lowest stream of Primary Schools. Special is set in Liverpool only a few years later, in an environment I found almost unrecognisable from my own experiences.

That said, the book is a gripping read. Jennifer, Annie`s mother, was only 17 when Annie was born. Two siblings arrived at intervals before her father was murdered in a racist attack (the racial element, although apparent throughout the novel, is largely incidental to its main theme) when Annie was 6. Two years later she was sent to an institution some 20 miles away from home. Her mother was an infrequent visitor. The heart of the book is Annie`s reaction to her new situation and how she coped with it. She was always aware of what was going on, unlike some of the other inmates who lacked her level of intelligence. She was sexually abused by staff and even, on a home visit, by a step-father. She ran away when she was 15 and worked as a prostitute in Wigan before being “re-captured”.

The author recounts these experiences with great sensitivity and understanding. He succeeds in the difficult task of empathising with Annie`s situation without either being patronising or under-stating the problems she sometimes caused for others, even for those she instinctively liked. He made one feel sympathetic both to Annie and to her mother Jennifer, who was torn between her love and responsibility for Annie and her need to serve the interests of her other children. And maybe if Annie`s father had not been murdered her life would have turned out differently. Her father doted on her and would surely never have acquiesced in her being sent to Mandlestones, the institution to which she was sent when she was 8. She clearly treasured his memory. I recommend the book warmly. It made me feel on Annie`s side throughout all of her difficulties. In describing the pitfalls which could befall a vulnerable child and adolescent in the 1970s he pulls no punches. Kindness wasn`t absent, but neither was exploitation. In that sense, it is also a piece of social history, the reality of which we have become increasingly aware. It also chronicles an increasingly progressive and humane approach on the part of the authorities.

The Prologue also serves as an Epilogue and should be re-read if its contents have been forgotten during the course of the book.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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