Bagheads by Karen Woods – Book Review

Having been pointed in Karen Woods’ direction after a book signing in Tesco Middleton by their staff, I felt the need to check out a fellow Mancunian Author, who, as the staff put it, is ‘raw and gritty, writing stories about Manchester.’

I had the pleasure of meeting Karen after this sound advice and she told me to read Bagheads first from her vast collection (18 books now! Impressive!).

I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zone regards reading lately, throwing myself into stories and genres I wouldn’t usually seek out, and Bagheads is another to add to this list, which didn’t disappoint.

‘Raw and Gritty’, I was told. Not half! This is a brutal outlook on the world of drugs in one of Manchester’s roughest and toughest areas. The story begins with main protagonist, Shaun, a heroin addict, hurling himself from the balcony of the drug addled flat he resides in. He survives the suicide attempt but is subsequently lay in a coma in hospital where his family come to his side. The story develops from there and the main bulk of the narrative is a flashback into how Shaun ended up the way he did.

On the face of it, Bagheads focuses on drug addicts and the torture and torment they have to endure, as well as their families. But under the surface, Karen humanises them, forcing the reader into somehow empathising with their plight. It looks at how easily people can be led down a dangerous path that ends up spiralling out of control into extreme substance abuse, and the underlying message is to not be so quick to judge these people – you don’t know their life story that led them to such a desperate point. 

This is Manchester in its most ruthless and honest form, conjuring up some very strong and colourful imagery that’ll make you wince in disgust, yet it creates moments of complete sadness coupled with hilarity, especially from the typical Mancunian dialect and phrases used throughout the book.

As I mentioned, this is new territory as far as my typical reading list is concerned, but I’m so tempted to head back into a world that is so far removed from my own, yet sits so close to home. I’m sure another Karen Woods book will be by my bedside table again soon enough as this was a fantastic, and eye opening, read.