I still feel in the middle of a blogging break instead of at the end of one, but I did want to post at least a short review of Lorna Sage’s memoir Bad Blood, the latest Slaves of Golconda read. Sage grew up in the 1940s and 50s in northern Wales in a very odd family. Her grandparents, with whom she spent much of her childhood, hated each other, her grandmother hated all men with a passion, her grandfather was a philandering vicar, her father was absent at the war in her early years, and her mother was miserable as a housewife and never quite grew up. Sage lived at first in a vicarage with her grandparents, a dirty, falling-down, mysterious kind of place, and then after her father returned from the war in an open-plan council house that made her miserable. It was fascinating to read about what life was like at the time: how awful the schools were, with no intention of teaching the pupils anything at all except keeping them in their place, how strict the class divisions were, and how closed off and constricted were the lives people led. Young people did what their parents did, and that was that. The Sage family were outsiders, originating as they did from southern instead of northern Wales and having an uncertain class status, as well as a quietly scandalous grandfather. Sage spent much of her childhood alone, wandering around the countryside, a countryside that some might see as picturesque, but which she knew was really harsh and wild.
And changes were underway, although they showed themselves slowly. New agricultural technology meant that young people who expected to labor on farms would find themselves without work and would have to leave their hometowns to become laborers elsewhere. New educational ideas would challenge the indifference and cruelty of a school system that refused to teach its children, and, of course, the 60s were on the way. But these changes came slowly, and for most of her childhood, Sage has to battle her circumstances all on her own.
She is certainly capable of waging battles, though. She’s a tough, smart, independent young person, and she is lucky that her grandfather taught her to read at a young age. Reading provides her with an escape, in a number of ways — an escape from the family craziness as she buries herself in books for hours and hours, and eventually an escape in the form of educational opportunities that take her to university and on to an academic career.
I enjoyed the book because I found Sage interesting as a person, because the time period and place were fascinating to learn about, and because I enjoyed Sage’s writing, which is vivid and powerful. At the same time as she tells her particular story, she captures what life was like for people in her time and place, and it’s a picture that makes me feel very grateful to live when and where I do.