Book review: Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish
Hollie McNish
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AN EARLY review of this book rather bluntly suggested that some of the poems in it are “not good”. It’s certainly true that many of them are a little rough around the edges, but to criticise them on those grounds is to completely miss the point.

Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish | Blackfriars, £13.99

As stage and page poet Holly McNish explains in her foreword, Nobody Told Me is not intended to be a collection of painstakingly polished work, but rather “a diary of poems written during the first few years of parenthood”, reflecting all the messiness and chaos that period entails.

Some, she says, were rushed, while others are “far too long and still uncut”. Some were written “at four a.m., some on the loo, in hospital, in the car, at work”. Interspersed with passages of spiky, penetrating prose, they offer a series of vivid snapshots of the highly emotional, frequently paranoid and always sleep-deprived experience of the first-time parent, and they somehow ring all the more true for being jagged and scrappy rather than effortlessly mellifluous. “You want perfectly calibrated rhyming couplets?” these poems seem to say. “Really?! When I haven’t slept properly for nearly six months? OK fine – here – why don’t you write some yourself?”

Miraculously, over almost 450 pages of raw, brutally honest and at times almost stream-of-consciousness writing, there are only a handful of lines that fall flat, or ideas that don’t work. And the best of the poems here will be music to the ears of anyone who has ever had to take care of a small person. Take “Embarrassed,” for example, a fiery indictment of the UK’s continuing inability to deal with public breastfeeding in a remotely grown-up manner that makes you want to stand up and cheer at the end (check out the YouTube version if you think I’m exaggerating – it’s clocked up 1.37 million views and counting.) Also impressive are “Christmas Adverts”, for the way it shreds the blue-for-boys, pink-for-girls orthodoxy of toy manufacturers, and “On The Train With A Toddler” for its merciless assault on people who can’t cope with kids making noise on public transport.

The world needs this book. It should be required reading for anyone thinking of having a baby, or even anyone who knows someone who is thinking of having a baby. And I can’t help wondering if these islands would be a happier and more pleasant place to live if Nobody Told Me was made a compulsory sex-ed set text in our schools. Politicians, please take note.