Bad Blood by Lorna Sage

2nd Aug 2010

Book Cover Bad Blood a Memoir by Lorna Sage

In Bad Blood, Lorna Sage skirts that entire trap. Not to say there wasn’t a masterplan; the book chronicles three generations of Sage’s family meticulously, but somehow still feels natural. She talks to the audience off the cuff, throws in anecdotes or evocative literary quotations; at times it’s like reading a blog.

But there is still in interesting story lurking; Sage’s girlhood and family are not boring or typical. But it is her authorial voice which elevates this into a great book, her utter refusal to romanticise her childhood.

This can make for a depressing read, but Sage never comes across as regretful, just determined to present a clear account of her past, her family’s history and how latter may have shaped the former. Her ability to look back on her youth with a critical eye is what makes this work.

I didn’t feel that Sage has no sentiment for her formative years, just that she is rarely willing to display it explicitly. The book even contains a built-in explanation for this; yet another trait passed through the ‘bad blood’ that runs through her family tree.

Lorna Sage’s analytical voice might make Bad Blood a withdrawn experience for some, but it’s part of the appeal for me. Cloying nostalgia is what can make a memoir into an oily slog. Crucially, even if she doesn’t rose-tint it, she evokes the time and place beautifully.

It is a very personal and specific work, and there’s little effort to make her life generic so we can all empathise. But I think that makes it more pure somehow. Once again, it’s like a blog, only with literary value. If Lorna Sage were still with us and blogging regularly, she would basically be our leader.

Bad Blood was published by Harper in 2000, and you can buy it from Amazon for £4.79.

Post by Nick Bryan