Josephine (Jo), who is about sixteen, in high school but preparing to drop out. She is attractive but without the instinctive sexuality of her mother, with whom she lives in squalor in the tenement slums of Manchester, England. The illegitimate daughter of (according to her mother) a retarded man, Jo is self-contained and more mature than her years, with an acerbic wit that more than matches her mother’s hardness, and with some signs of artistic talent. Unable to concentrate on her possibilities because of the transient nature of her upbringing, she tries to avoid succumbing to her mother’s lifestyle. She seeks affection in a brief affair with a black sailor, who leaves her pregnant. Fearing that her own father’s idiocy will be passed on to the child, she lives through her pregnancy dreading motherhood, cared for only by a homosexual friend.
Helen, Josephine’s mother, in her mid-to late thirties but looking younger. She is a “semi-whore”; she enters into relationships with the shared understanding that her needs and wants will be met. She is harsh, independent, and bruised by life’s experiences but capable of sustaining herself; she is also a constant and serious drinker. She lives off a series of male friends, moving from place to place to flee more complex relationships, dragging Jo with her from slum to slum. Her motherly instincts are confined to unemotional retreats from real contact, coupled with loud, sarcastic, scourging...
(The entire section is 619 words.)