The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Books  |  Comedy  |  Dance  |  Museum And Gallery  |  Theater

Past and present

Andrew Motion's is a memoir to savor
By CHARLES TAYLOR  |  May 27, 2008

HAPPY CHILD Motion writes about joy and discovery and the kind of fear that shapes you without necessarily scarring you.

Family memoirs have largely become entries in the abuse sweepstakes from new writers vying for attention, or else catalogues of eccentricity in which dysfunction has become the new measure of good breeding. So a book as scrupulously observed and beautifully wrought as Andrew Motion’s In the Blood can provide a shock of recognition. This, you think, is what memoir was meant to be.

Motion, the poet laureate of Great Britain, has no tale of abuse or dysfunction to relate. In the Blood is bookended by a trauma — the brain injury that his mother sustained in a riding accident when he was 17, an injury that kept her largely in a coma until her death nine years later. But this is the story of a mostly happy childhood, one with childhood’s distinct discoveries, joys, and fears, the kind that shape you without necessarily scarring you. Mostly, though, it’s about the making of a poet. In Motion’s portrait of the inner life of his childhood, that means the refinement of his powers of observation and perception, his sensitivity to the natural world and the manmade world, and especially to the people around him.

The book combines vividness of description — which conjures the physical and emotional particulars of the scenes Motion is relating (and which could not be invented later without making the invention obvious) — with the kind of reflection that, though it may come later, could not come at all without the initial keen observation that makes such reflection possible. It’s Motion’s particular gift to make his fidelity to the East Anglia landscape of his childhood of a piece with the empathy he shows to his family: his father, a slightly distant presence; his younger brother, Kit, both ally and rival; and above all, his beloved mother, his champion and confidante, balancing between providing comfort and refuge to her son and encouraging him to face the larger world.

Motion’s memories of the boarding school he attended are good enough to be placed alongside Orwell’s essay “Such, Such Were the Joys.” (You realize the grimness such places evoke, from Dickens chronicling Nicholas Nickleby’s encounter with Wackford Squeers on down — and there’s a great Dickensian moment: on the train trip back to school from the holidays, young Andrew realizes even the school toughie is crying.) “We didn’t help each other much at school,” Motion writes, “or make plans about how we could make it better. We kept our heads down and waited for time to pass. Scribbling out the days in a little calendar I kept inside my Bible. Counting down towards the holidays or the visits our parents were allowed to make twice a term.”

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Year in Books: Word plays, Good reads, War and peace, More more >
  Topics: Books , Media, Books, Poetry,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article
HTML Prohibited
Add Comment

Share this entry with Delicious
  •   PLEASURE PRINCIPLES  |  December 02, 2009
    Willard Spiegelman seems like a nice guy. He has had the good luck to live a happy life without major disaster or suffering. But as a long-time professor of English at Southern Methodist University and editor of the Southwest Review , he has ended up living his life among just those people — writers and academics.
  •   HEART AND CLAW  |  August 25, 2009
    Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard act out
  •   WYNDHAM'S WAR  |  July 21, 2009
    Francis Wyndham's first book of short stories, Out of the War , was published in 1974, when the author was 50 and in the midst of a distinguished career of reviewing and editing.
  •   DEATH WATCH  |  May 19, 2009
    Michael Connelly's newspaper elegy
  •   REVIEW: HONEY WEST  |  February 17, 2009
    I didn't see Honey West during its one-season, 1965-'66 prime-time run on CBS.

 See all articles by: CHARLES TAYLOR

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2010 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group