Over the past few years there have been a spate of books recounting deeply unhappy childhoods with parents who are abusive beyond belief. They are so popular that when I was in a booksellers recently I saw that they had an entire section devoted to them. I can't remember what the section was called, but it was something along the lines of 'Damaged Childhoods', somewhat short on subtlety I remember thinking.
But what really disappointed me was to see that they had included Lorna Sage's wonderful memoir of her upbringing among them. Because Lorna's book is affectionate and very very funny, despite that the marriage of the grandparents who brought her up was dysfunctional in the extreme. But she is able to offer an exceptionally sharp analysis of the way that the bitter conflict between her grandparents impacted on the subsequent generations, as well as acute observation of the individual traits that distinguished each family member who she brings entirely to life.
I'm of a similar age to Lorna, and remember all too well the sombre grey postwar austerity that consumed Britain, so I may be prejudiced in giving it my wholehearted recommendation. And I lived just round the corner from Lorna for several years, as well as sitting in on her lectures at our local university, so I can see her in my mind whenever I read her.
The book is well illustrated with family photos inserted at the appropriate points in the narrative. You find yourself surprised to see how normal everyone looks after you've been guided in such detail through their idiosyncrasies. In an odd way this book reminded me of Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals', although it is far darker in the lives it explores.
The book was originally published (by 4th Estate) in 2000. And sadly within a year Lorna had died of emphysema, aged just 57.
The Guardian published an article by Lorna which will give the curious a small flavour of her writing. Seek it out.