The bad blood had missed a generation. You’re just like your grandfather, my mother said.
Blood trickles down through every generation, seeps into every marriage. Lorna Sage’s long-awaited adventure in autobiography is a searing and funny anatomy of three marriages. Her early childhood was dominated by her brilliant, bitter grandfather, a boozer, a womaniser, a vicar exiled to a remote village on the Welsh borders. His wife loathed him, lived on memories and shook her fist at any parishioner bold enough to call at the house. From the vicarage Lorna watched the fading away of the old world and the slow dissolve of her grandparents’ disastrous union.
Then father returns from the army, grandfather dies, and she moves with her parents and baby brother into a newly built council house. The open-plan future is a place of rural dereliction. Living with her real parents she quickly learns that the post-war world is full of secrets and myths that mark her family – her mother’s thwarted dreams, her father’s addiction to work, and the mysterious emotional economy of their proper marriage. Longing to leave, Lorna vows she will never marry or have children. But she grows up so fast that she finds herself pregnant without noticing she has lost her virginity.
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This is one of those memoirs of a difficult, sometimes violent girlhood, that makes riveting reading--not as harrowing as Andrea Ashworth's brilliant Once in a House on Fire, but every bit as good. Whether this is voyeuristic is debatable, but clearly the author, Lorna Sage, felt she had something to tell, and she tells it vividly. She grew up with an absent father, a quiet and docile mother, and--the two most powerful figures of her formative years--a pair of ferocious, tyrannical, impossible grandparents. Her grandfather is the most striking of all, not least because he was a Church of England clergyman. Sage offers an unforgettable evocation of this bitter, hard-drinking, womanising cleric, as he strides through the desolate churchyard with his little granddaughter clinging onto his black skirts in the wind. "He was good at funerals, being gaunt and lined, marked with mortality. He had a scar down his hollow cheek, too, which grandma had done with the carving knife one of the many times when he came home pissed and incapable." The place, too, is strongly evoked: a small, isolated, squalid village on the English-Welsh border in darkest Shropshire, the very landscape of that haunting writer of the 1920s, Mary Webb. Sometimes, though, Sage's girlhood--we're only talking 1940s and 1950s here--feels more like it is something out of the pages of the Brontës, and indeed she acknowledges this freely. "Perhaps I really did grow up, as I sometimes suspect, in a time warp, an enclave of the 19th century?" That weird sense of anachronism makes this a riveting if sometimes uncomfortable read.-- Christopher HartReview:
‘Lorna Sage has always been among the most acute literary critics of her generation, and this book shows why: because she writes so well herself, with an honesty equal to a story as painful as this. She has transmuted a bad dream into a book of classic poise. This is not a book for children, but neither was her childhood.’ Clive James
‘Speak, Memory! Lorna Sage’s memoir is magnificent and quite impossible to lay aside. What a book for this country now. She makes Hanmer, Whitchurch, the shop, the ailing haulage business, the lightless houses, the mad relations, into the real ancestral England, from which the English have ever since been on the run.’ Jonathan Raban
‘A wonderful book. Bad Blood is a personal history written with such insight it makes of it a social document of true worth. Women need this kind of book but perhaps men need it more, to give the sort of understanding which we still lack of how girls actually grow up.’ Margaret Forster
‘This could have been the saddest book you have ever read, but because of Lorna Sage’s relish in the details, her exuberant celebration of the vitality of this clever, surviving girl who overcame such difficulties, it is as enjoyable a book as I remember reading.’ Doris Lessing
‘Her story is beautifully served by Jenny Agutter, who reads it with conviction, sympathy and, one senses, more than a little recognition.’ Peter Kingston, The Guardian
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Book Description Fourth Estate. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. B003X80EIO New. Bookseller Inventory # B003X80EIONOE