Abide With Me by Ian Ayris

Abide With Me by Ian AyrisWe weren’t never bad kids, we just didn’t have nothing to hold on to, that’s all. – John Sissons

John Sissons is a working class kid growing up in London’s East End during the mid 1970s. His family doesn’t have a lot, but they do have tremendous love for each other and an undying passion for football (that’s soccer for the American crowd).

Kenny Montgomery is the strange kid who lives across the street. Overweight, socially awkward, and uncommunicative to the point one could mistake him for mute, it seems to be Kenny’s lot in life to be the butt of jokes and target of bullies.

Turns out Kenny’s abuse doesn’t end when he gets home from school. As John learns firsthand one frightening afternoon when he stops in for tea, both Kenny and his mum are the victims of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Kenny’s alcoholic father.

A good kid at heart, John takes Kenny under his wing and the two form an unlikely friendship, one that grows for several years until their lives are irrevocably changed by two outbursts of violence.

The first finds all the pain Kenny has suffered and repressed throughout his life erupting in spectacular fashion, while the second results when John, now a dropout, and some friends plan a holdup that goes decidedly sideways. The fallout from those events sends John and Kenny down separate paths in life for the better part of a decade. When they’re finally reunited they discover that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Written from John’s point of view and in the rough-edged vernacular of London’s East End, Abide With Me is as immersive and atmospheric as a novel can get. There’s nothing pretty or sugarcoated about the lives John and Kenny lead, and therein is actually where the true beauty of Abide With Me lies. Author Ian Ayris has an uncanny talent for exquisitely expressing and bringing to life the type of small details and everyday triumphs and tragedies that define our lives. Be it John and his father sharing the joy of their favorite football club’s success or Kenny finding solace in staring at the streetlight outside his window at night, Ayris realizes it’s the little things in life that ultimately make the biggest difference.

And while the plot of Abide With Me is fiction, Ayris has said that the setting and many of the memories and emotions were indeed mined from his own life. That willingness of Ayris to tap directly into his own childhood hopes and dreams, pain and confusion gives John’s voice a clarity and rawness that rings undeniably true. This boy, and later young man, is as real as any person you’ll ever meet. More so, actually, as Ayris takes us into the darkest corners of John’s mind, allowing the reader to share and experience every triumph and humiliation, every ambition and sacrifice in a way one rarely, if ever, gets to share with another person in reality.

That Abide With Me is a debut novel is, quite frankly, stunning. Ayris brings a depth and level of emotion to his writing that most authors strive their entire career to achieve, and which many never do. Never is that more apparent than in the ending Ayris crafts for John and Kenny, one so powerful, poignant, and heartbreaking it actually brought tears to my eyes. If there is even a shred of justice in this world Abide With Me will garner the kind of widespread attention it so richly deserves.

Abide with Me is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing (ISBN: 978-1907565120).

Abide with Me was one of my Top 10 Reads of 2012

Ian Ayris was born in Dagenham, Essex. Having spent most of his childhood more interested in kicking a tennis ball about the school playground with his mates than actually learning anything, he managed to leave the public education system in 1985 with but two O Levels and a handful of C.S.E.’s. And a love of writing. His academic achievements set him up nicely for the succession of low paid jobs he has maintained to this day. Ian’s love of writing resurfaced late in his thirties, and he has since had almost thirty short stories published both in print and online. He is the author of Abide with Me and the short story collection, Uncle Mildred and Other Stories. Ian lives with his wife and three children in Romford, Essex where he is currently studying for a degree in English Literature and is a lifelong Dagenham and Redbridge supporter. To learn more about Ian, visit his website.

And be sure to read Ian’s guest post, “Searching for the Heartbreaker.”


  • Darren Laws

    April 12, 2012 - 5:32 PM

    I am biased because I am the publisher but it will be hard to find a better book this year.

  • Paul Brazill

    March 28, 2012 - 6:38 AM

    Spot on!

  • Naomi Johnson

    March 27, 2012 - 9:02 PM

    Excellent review, Elizabeth. I echo your opinion of this book.

  • Julie Morrigan

    March 27, 2012 - 4:17 PM

    Great book and a great review. Nice work!

  • Eric Beetner

    March 27, 2012 - 4:01 PM

    Amen, sister!

  • sabrina ogden

    March 27, 2012 - 3:30 PM

    Wonderful review, Elizabeth. I’m a little nervous to read this because of how emotional I am just reading the post from Ian and while reading your review just now. I’m really looking forward to it, though.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      March 27, 2012 - 3:36 PM

      It doesn’t pull any punches. I can only remember one other book that “got me” at the end the way this one did, and that was The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters. Both just left me absolutely gutted.

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