Review published on June 9, 2018.
When Sally Bayley was around the age of four, her baby brother, who had been put in the garden in his pram near the roses, suddenly vanished. This single incident was pivotal in changing Sally’s life; her mother went to bed ‘for a very long time’. This was just one of a series of events that Sally experienced; to say she had an unconventional upbringing would be an understatement. The house close to the sea where she lived with her mother and other siblings was dilapidated and filthy, they shared it with Aunt Di, a hippy with plenty of charisma and influence, her grandmother and what seemed to be a never-ending stream of people. No men were allowed to live in the house, though on rare occasions, one might be permitted to visit, including her father once, though that was marred with peculiarities.
To cope with this Sally lost herself in a world of books. On discovering Agatha Christie she turns detective to try and discover what had happened to her brother. Reading Jane Eyre is the beginning of a journey into the rich landscape of Victorian literature. These characters that she discovers in the covers of the books offer comfort and friendship, something that is lacking in her chaotic home life. She takes a look at herself in the mirror one day and all of a sudden she realises that the pale apparition staring back is her. This sliver of a girl takes herself to the doctor; something that never happened as visiting the doctor was forbidden in her family. Realising that things are really not right, she seeks further help and hands herself into care.
The first two parts of the book have a vague narrative as she weaves between fictional characters and the reality of her life as a child in that messed-up house. It is not particularly easy to follow, it was almost like reading the story through a fogged up mirror at times. I fully understand why she has written it this way, it reflects just what she was experiencing when living in that household. The final part of the book is the most visceral though, as Sally realises that this is not normal and the act of involving outside parties to help provokes the ire of the matriarchs of the household. It did make me wonder just how these children were under the radar of the authorities for so long. There are elements that Bayley does not revisit in the final part and that left me wondering what had happened. These blurry memories are her recollection of a childhood that many others would have preferred to have forgotten.
Paul Cheney 3/3
Girl With Dove: A Life Built By Books by Sally Bayley
William Collins 9780008226855 hbk May 2018
Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32 by B.C.R. Fegan
Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
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