Wicked Little Joe

By: Joseph Hone

Publication Date: June 2009

(3 customer reviews)


‘In the summer of 1939, as a two-year-old in London, I was given away by my parents to a Chelsea friend and taken on the Irish Mail to Dublin.’ Joe Hone

Thus begins this extraordinary memoir by travel writer and novelist Joe Hone, one of eight children farmed out by impecunious and inebriate parents, who was raised at Maidenhall in County Kilkenny by the historian and essayist Hubert Butler and his wife Peggy, sister of Tyrone Guthrie of Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan. The story is told through a cache of letters discovered on Hubert Butler’s death between he and his friend ‘Old Joe’, Little Joe’s grandfather and biographer of Yeats and George Moore, upon whom fell the financial responsibility for his grandson’s upbringing.

This account of Joseph Hone’s childhood and youth during the 1940s and 50s in rural Ireland, among the privileged and artistic elite of his generation living down-at-heel if comfortable lives in a newly emergent state, is an enthralling reminder of the happenstance and precariousness of all our lives. Like William Trevor, Joe was boarded out at Sandford Park in Dublin and then at St Columba’s, both of which he documents in loving and comic detail, gaining as much stimulation from his home environment as from the excesses and disappointments of these single-sex establishments. He writes with feeling and insight of the lives of those in his circle and beyond – his teachers and foster parents and friends – working as an assistant for John Ford during the making of The Quiet Man, and finding himself as the writer he was to become.

This numinous work of autobiography and self-interrogation bears comparison with Nabokov’s Speak Memory or Frank O’Connor’s An Only Child. It will take its place as a classic of the genre while illuminating unknown corners of Ireland’s cultural landscape.

‘A brilliant, often hilariously funny, and above all, beautifully written story.’ – Irish Arts Review

An invaluable account of an unusal upbringing and a wonderful portrait of two Irish men of letters… 5 stars.’ – The Dubliner


JOESEPH HONE is the author of eight novels, including The Private Sector, Summer Hill and Firebird, and four books of travel writing, from The Dancing Waiters to Duck Soup in the Black Sea, both of which gather material commissioned during his time as overseas correspondent for the BBC. He lived and taught  in Oxfordshire in England for a number of years. He passed away in August 2016.

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3 reviews for Wicked Little Joe

  1. Lilliput Press

    “I have just finished this memoir, having spent a couple of days curled up on the sofa with it, talking to no-one. It tells of childhood abandonment amidst the late great Irish literati, and offers an insight into the miserly, sometimes silly sides the likes of Hubert Butler and Joseph Hone – rightly revered as literary figures, but lacking a certain je ne sais quoi in the child-rearing stakes. The most striking thing about this beautifully written book, whose phrases and rhythm sometimes take your breath away, is that the author (the victim) of this upbringing should be able to reflect on its ragged course with such humanity. Haunting.” EMILY

  2. Lilliput Press

    “Enjoy this book. Found it very sad. But it was the climate of the day at that particular period. Well written.” MARGARET LEDWITH

  3. Lilliput Press

    “Fascinating account of boyhood school days and endless family connections albeit in the rarefied environment of a privileged class. Hone still managed to keep me interested to the last page. Very well structured throughout drawing on contents and reactions to a trove of family correspondence.”

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Weight 0.5 kg
Dimensions 156 × 234 mm
Publication Date

June 2009


Paperback, 264pp