Despair over the temporariness of the human condition and the desire to preserve what has been known and felt, even grief, is at the heart of British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s memoir of his childhood and adolescence in rural postwar England. A paean to his family and to the birds, brambles, and secret hollows of Hertfordshire and Essex, this memoir evokes with clarity, detail, and care a whole world that has past. The book begins in the present tense in December 1968, hours before the event that precipitated Motion’s desire to capture and keep unchanged the life he had known heretofore: his mother’s foxhunting accident and subsequent coma from which she never recovers. “My childhood has ended suddenly. In a day,” writes Motion at the close of the first chapter. “I want to lock into my head everything that’s happened in my life up to now, and make sure it never changes. If I can keep it safe, I’ll be able to look back and feel safe myself . . . I just want everything as it was, when I saw the world for the first time.”
Motion, Britain’s poet laureate, was 16 in 1968 when his beloved mother fell into a coma after a hunting accident and his childhood “ended suddenly.” After this shock opening, Motion recounts the scenes and events of that childhood, which range from warm early memories of growing up “country gentry” in Hertfordshire to being sent off to a Dickensian boarding school—with disgusting food, terrible sanitation and a headmaster who enjoyed beating little boys—at age seven. The book soars into the extraordinary when Motion recounts his early teens. A new boarding school brought a sympathetic headmaster who recognized the potential in the unread country boy’s love for Dylan and Hendrix and encouraged him toward poetry. (A heart wrenchingly beautiful scene describes his slow, awed discovery of Thomas Hardy.) By age 15, Motion had made his first real friend and entered a new relationship with his mother, who read eagerly in partnership with him. Motion perfectly conveys the “new faster time” of adolescent thinking and subtly conveys us back to his mother’s tragedy with a new understanding of its importance to his entire life.
—Publishers Weekly, August 13, 2007
Eschewing the confessional or critical tone of some memoirs, and the investigatory or elucidatory approaches of others, Motion strives to recreate the voice and vision of the boy he once was, taking care not to sully or distort with hindsight what is felt to be still very much alive in memory. Whether recounting his first time salmon fishing in Scotland with his father, the horrors of prep school at the young age of seven, or his discovery of Thomas Hardy and Bob Dylan, Motion imbues his recollections with the quicksilver emotions of the boy he was and the perceptions of the poet he will be; readers of Motion’s poetry will recognize many of these experiences as the antecedents of the poems. Yet this memoir is far more than a guide to the life behind the poems; it is a stand against the ineluctability of time’s passing, an insistence that what has been “felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,” as in the book’s title and epigraph from Wordsworth, can be neither taken from us nor lost. There seems to be no limit to the number of ways in which there might occur what Wordsworth called the growth of a poet’s mind . . . He might well have acknowledged a family resemblance in his latest successor.
—Frank Kermode, London Review of Books
A sad, gripping and powerful story.
—Margaret Drabble, New Statesman
Brilliantly achieved and novel-like.
—John Mullan, Guardian
The most moving and exquisitely written account of childhood loss I have ever read . . . In the Blood will always be Andrew Motion’s elegy to his mother. For those of us fortunate enough to read this superlative memoir, it’s a celebration of mothers everywhere.
—Charlie Lee-Potter, Independent on Sunday