Bad Blood: A Memoir

Bad Blood: A Memoir

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by Lorna Sage

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Bestselling author Lorna Sage delivers the tragicomic memoirof her escape from a claustrophobic childhood in post-WWII Britain—and thestory of the weddings and relationships that defined three generations of herfamily—in Bad Blood, an internationalbestseller and the winner of the coveted Whitbread Biography Award. Readers ofbooks like


Bestselling author Lorna Sage delivers the tragicomic memoirof her escape from a claustrophobic childhood in post-WWII Britain—and thestory of the weddings and relationships that defined three generations of herfamily—in Bad Blood, an internationalbestseller and the winner of the coveted Whitbread Biography Award. Readers ofbooks like Angela’s Ashes and The Liar’s Club as well as fans ofSage’s own lucid and penetrating writing will be captivated by the book that the New York Times Book Review said“fills us with wonder and gratitude. . . . Few literary critics have everwritten anything so memorable.”

Editorial Reviews

Maureen Corrigan
“Magnificent. . . . A superb memoir of a daughter of the 1950s who got knocked up, but not knocked down.”
“Deeply affecting and beautifully written.”
Harper's Bazaar
“An award-winning memoir of courageous escape.”
The Independent (London)
“Deserves to become a classic.”
“Deserves special notice… The intensely personal story will resonate with more than just Anglophiles.”
New York Review of Books
“In Bad Blood, [Sage] has written a classic.”
Publishers Weekly
The late British literary critic Sage spent her youth in the home of her grandparents, in the vicarage of Hanmer, a village in Flintshire, England. Her father was off fighting in World War II, her mother off in her own dreamy rerun of adolescence, so young Lorna hung onto the "skirts" of her vicar grandpa, a histrionic, bitterly intelligent philanderer with the "habit of living irritably in his imagination." His idiosyncrasies were almost endearing: he spent days stalking the graveyard muttering Shakespearean soliloquies and blacking out the spines of the books in his library to deter casual theft. Grandma, "a fat doll tottering on tiny swollen feet," considered Hanmer a "dead-alive dump" and never forgave her husband for talking her into marriage and leaving the gynocentric Eden of her family's shop in South Wales. What made her grandparents' marriage "more than a run-of-the-mill case of domestic estrangement" was Grandma's "refusal to accept her lot" she remained "furious" with her husband and, by extension, with all men, including her daughter's and granddaughter's husbands. In such a dysfunctional household, where "nobody wants to play the part of parent," Sage didn't have the option of passing for normal not that the "functional illiteracy" of her village peers was anything to envy. Ultimately, it was books and sheer orneriness her grandpa's "bad blood" that saved her from the oblivion her mother and grandmother had chosen. Sage finds such delicious ironies in all the awful detail that readers can't help but be entertained., wickedly. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The late Sage's feisty memoir is a haunting tale of growing up in postwar Wales. Despite the British references, this remarkably brave, bleak book should speak to a whole generation of Western women and men who came of age during that time. Sage's previous publications include Women in the House of Fiction and numerous works on women writers, including Doris Lessing and Angela Carter, for which she won critical but muted acclaim. It was only when Sage turned her critical eye on her own life that she shot to stardom in the United Kingdom, winning the 2000 Whitbread Biography Award. Despite its harsh reflection of family life, parts of this memoir are wildly funny, as Sage introduces some memorable characters. Her descriptions of her grandparents' tangled, mangled lives alone make the book worth reading. This memoir stands up to the very best. Highly recommended. Gail Benjafield, St. Catharine's P.L., Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
New Yorker
This wry family memoir by the late English literary critic Lorna Sage serves as a corrective to anyone harboring romantic notions about growing up in rural Britain. The author's grandfather was a licentious vicar in a small town near the Welsh border who blacked out the titles of his books so that parishioners wouldn't ask to borrow them. Her grandmother spent most days in bed -- hoarding sweets and coal, and cursing her husband's wickedness -- while Sage's mother served as the family drudge. Bathing was considered vaguely suspect; neighbors were to be despised; no one taught Lorna how to tell time. Life beyond the vicarage proved little better, as the Dickensian cruelties of the classroom competed with the Darwinian realities of the schoolyard. But these miseries are offset by the humor and lack of self-pity with which they are vigorously recounted; at once literary and scientifically exacting, Sage's investigations bring an entire era alarmingly to life.
Kirkus Reviews
Tragicomic winner of the 2000 Whitbread Biography Award, revealing late literary critic Sage's wretched childhood in provincial England during the 1940s and '50s. Born in 1943 while her father was at war in Normandy, Sage was raised in the squalid village of Hanmer. She lived in the dilapidated vicarage with her subservient mother, Valma, and her warring grandparents: a drunken, womanizing clergyman who felt trapped in the wrong career; and his contemptuous wife, who viewed motherhood and marriage as "devilish male plots to degrade her" and deemed Hanmer a hole full of "dirty" villagers (though her own grandchildren wore rags and had lice). Sage describes with humor her grandparents' violent battles, from which Valma suffered the most. (Once, running to intervene in one of her parents' "murderous rows," she fell down a staircase and lost her front teeth.) Valma yearned to pursue a career outside of home, but after failing her driver's-license test, resigned herself to cooking meat dinners for the family that were "dangerously full of knots of choking gristle and shards and spikes of bone." Sage spices up the narrative by prying into her grandfather's scandalous diary, in which he boasts about seducing Valma's friend. Moving on to her teens, the author divulges that her sexual ignorance, promoted by the era's prudery, caused her accidental pregnancy at the age of 16. The sadistic nuns she faced in the delivery room incarnate the misogynist attitudes that prevailed before the resurgence of feminism in the late 1960s. Despite her obstetrician's prediction that she was born only to breed, Sage earned a scholarship to study English at Durham University. By evoking the oppressive atmosphere ofan era in which women were often consigned to domestic lots, she reminds us of freedoms that we take for granted. Shockingly frank, but also witty, passionate, and utterly lacking self-pity-and surprisingly uplifting.
People Magazine
"Deeply affecting and beautifully written."
The Independent(London)
"Deserves to become a classic."

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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Chapter One

The Old Devil and His Wife

Grandfather's skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn't get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his. He'd have liked to get further away, but petrol was rationed. The church was at least safe. My grandmother never went near it -- except feet first in her coffin, but that was years later, when she was buried in the same grave with him. Rotting together for eternity, one flesh at the last after a lifetime's mutual loathing. In life, though, she never invaded his patch; once inside the churchyard gate he was on his own ground, in his element. 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.

That, though, was when they were still 'speaking', before my time. Now they mostly monologued and swore at each other's backs, and he (and I) would slam out of the house and go off between the graves, past the yew tree with a hollow where the cat had her litters and the various vaults that were supposed to account for the smell in the vicarage cellars in wet weather. On our right was the church; off to our left the graves stretched away, bisected by a grander gravel path leading down from the church porch to a bit of green with a war memorial, then -- across theroad -- the mere. The church was popular for weddings because of this impressive approach, but he wasn't at all keen on the marriage ceremony, naturally enough. Burials he relished, perhaps because he saw himself as buried alive.

One day we stopped to watch the gravedigger, who unearthed a skull -- it was an old churchyard, on its second or third time around -- and grandfather dusted off the soil and declaimed: 'Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well...' I thought he was making it up as he went along. When I grew up a bit and saw Hamlet and found him out, I wondered what had been going through his mind. I suppose the scene struck him as an image of his condition -- exiled to a remote, illiterate rural parish, his talents wasted and so on. On the other hand his position afforded him a lot of opportunities for indulging secret, bitter jokes, hamming up the act and cherishing his ironies, so in a way he was enjoying himself. Back then, I thought that was what a vicar was, simply: someone bony and eloquent and smelly (tobacco, candle grease, sour claret), who talked into space. His disappointments were just part of the act for me, along with his dog-collar and cassock. I was like a baby goose imprinted by the first mother-figure it sees -- he was my black marker.

It was certainly easy to spot him at a distance too. But this was a village where it seemed everybody was their vocation. They didn't just 'know their place', it was as though the place occupied them, so that they all knew what they were going to be from the beginning. People's names conspired to colour in this picture. The gravedigger was actually called Mr. Downward. The blacksmith who lived by the mere was called Bywater. Even more decisively, the family who owned the village were called Hamner, and so was the village. The Hanmers had come over with the Conqueror, got as far as the Welsh border and stayed ever since in this little rounded isthmus of North Wales sticking out into England, the detached portion of Flintshire (Flintshire Maelor) as it was called then, surrounded by Shropshire, Cheshire and -- on the Welsh side -- Denbighshire. There was no town in the Maelor district, only villages and hamlets; Flintshire proper was some way off; and (then) industrial, which made it in practice a world away from these pastoral parishes, which had become resigned to being handed a Labour MP at every election. People in Hamner well understood, in almost a prideful way, that we weren't part of all that. The kind of choice represented by voting didn't figure large on the local map and you only really counted places you could get to on foot or by bike.

The war had changed this to some extent, but not as much as it might have because farming was a reserved occupation and sons hadn't been called up unless there were a lot of them, or their families were smallholders with little land. So Hanmer in the 1940s in many ways resembled Hamner in the 1920s, or even the late 1800s except that it was more depressed, less populous and more out of step -- more and more islanded in time as the years had gone by. We didn't speak Welsh either, so that there was little national feeling, rather a sense of stubbornly being where you were and that was that. Also very unWelsh was the fact that Hanmer had no chapel to rival Grandfather's church: the Hanmers would never lease land to Nonconformists and there was no tradition of Dissent, except in the form of not going to church at all. Many people did attend, though, partly because he was locally famous for his sermons, and because he was High Church and went in for dressing up and altar boys and frequent communions. Not frequent enough to explain the amount of wine he got through, however. Eventually the Church stopped his supply and after that communicants got watered-down Sanatogen from Boots the chemist in Whitchurch, over the Shropshire border.


Bad Blood. Copyright © by Lorna Sage. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Maureen Corrigan
“Magnificent. . . . A superb memoir of a daughter of the 1950s who got knocked up, but not knocked down.”

Meet the Author

An influential literary critic, Lorna Sage was a professor of English at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Her other books include Women in the House of Fiction, The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English, and a study of the novelist Angela Carter. She died in 2001.

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Bad Blood: A Memoir 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bada book but cool!