For most people childhood ends slowly, so nobody can see where one part of life finishes and the next bit starts. But my childhood has ended suddenly. In a day.
In the Blood is Andrew Motion’s beautifully delivered memoir of growing-up in post-war England — an unforgettable evocation of family life, school life, and country life. It also tells the story of how these worlds were shattered when Motion’s mother suffered a terrible riding accident. The tragedy shadows the book, feeding its mood of elegy as well as its celebratory vigilance. Told from a teenage child’s point of view, without the benefit of hindsight, Motion captures the pathos and puzzlement of childhood with great clarity of expression and freshness of memory. We encounter a strange but beguiling extended family, a profound love of the natural world, and a growing passion for books and writing.
This book, on the whole was a disappointment. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was because of Motion’s status as a poet, that I expected more. Perhaps it was to do with how I perceived the advertising literature. I can’t say. However, I felt that although the book was based on a major event, Motion’s mother’s riding accident, it never went anywhere. It felt static. Motion grew up in a middle class, Home Counties country environment. There seemed to be nothing particularly odd or different about his upbringing…I suspect many will recognise his descriptions of hunting, and boarding school etc. Equally many will have no experience of these things themselves, but will be familiar with them from numerous other writings on such topics. His detail is well written and poetically descriptive, as you would expect, yet somehow boring, and I wondered what his point was. Why did he feel the need to write about his childhood in such poignant detail? Was it because of his mother’s accident, or in spite of…some sort of justification for the tragedy which was her life. Was he trying to convince himself that he had been the model son, despite the events which shaped his growing years?
He felt that his life changed overnight, and childhood ended abruptly. This obviously marked him, even traumatised him. He seemed not to be able to cope as well as his younger brother, who seemed to be philosophical about everything. I was not sure about the reasons for this. His relationship with his mother seemed ambivalent to me, though I could never fathom why. They seemed to become closer as he grew older and confided in her, telling her about his desire to write, but even then, I felt a coldness between them. When the book ends we don’t know what happened to Mrs Motion. Did she live or die? How did Andrew feel about her in the years after the accident?
There seemed for me, to be more questions at the end of the book, than had been answered during it, which surprised me. I was frustrated because of the lack of direction. Why was he telling us this story? Had he learned anything from it? I felt that in reality, he had not divulged all, either to his readers or himself, and this felt like a very loose end. Even though it was written from the perspective of a confused teenager, it didn’t work for me.
Strangely though, the book stayed with me for days after I had read it, and again there was nothing I could pinpoint or refer to particularly, but just a vague feeling of it not being finished…and I wanted a conclusion. I didn’t feel as if I had got to know the real Andrew Motion at all.
Overall a disappointment, but I do not regret reading it, as I believe there is food for thought there, which will be useful when reading his other works.