Haunted by Hunting

By Rogers, Byron | The Spectator, September 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Haunted by Hunting


Rogers, Byron, The Spectator


IN THE BLOOD : A MEMOIR OF MY CHILDHOOD by Andrew Motion Faber, £16.99, pp. 326, ISBN 0571228038 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

This is an ambitious book. Andrew Motion set out to write a memoir of his childhood but not from the standpoint, and distance, of a grown-up looking back; he set out to write it in the character of a child and teenager living through his experiences. The result can be startling.

Of his father, a third-generation brewer and a colonel in the TA (a rank he used in private life), he says: 'every time my dad said "Surrey" he made a tsk noise, because he'd once met someone from Esher who wore a Gannex coat like Mr Wilson'. In other words, Motion Senior was a hair-raising snob. The county of Surrey was written off because of one man's mac. His son makes no comment of any kind. You don't when you are 16.

So this is a family memoir where the grown-ups, especially his parents, come and go in a haze of acceptance, for Motion has chosen to write from a time before rebellion. No judgment, no bitterness, even though by sending him to the usual crazy prep school they prompt the unhappiest days of his childhood, and little characterisation beyond the fact that the Colonel puts Bay Rum on his hair, and his mother is beautiful. For all these, you have to read between the lines.

The trouble is that, when you do, you feel guilty, for this was a family to whom something terrible happened. When Andrew Motion was 16 his mother suffered a hunting accident, from which she did not recover: the book ends with her still in a coma. And with that accident the family life he had known was over.

To review an autobiography is always a problem, and the more personal it is, the more of a problem it is, all those doors being opened, however guardedly, for your inspection. What if you don't like the curtains? If you don't, do you say so? But how much more difficult it is when you know you are about to come up against something as awful as that hunting accident.

The Motions shadow the paradigm of English social mobility, the foundingfather of one generation giving way to the businessman to the country gentleman to the aesthete, but not quite. In their case three stages of the process are achieved in one. Great-grandpa, a baker's son, makes the money as a brewer, buys the hall (with its entire contents), installs the horses, then gets a coat of arms with a motto. Only his son, Grandpa, then blues most of the cash by taking too seriously what he conceives of as his responsibilities as a country gentleman.

'Hunted, and hunted, and hunted, ' Motion's own mother told him, foxes, salmon, deer, for there was also a Scottish baronial home. And of course there were nannies, Mrs Motion went on, nannies who from time to time brought her husband down from his nursery to show him off 'like a prize vegetable'. A doctor's daughter from Beaconsfield, she brings a whiff of common sense with her, though the hunting is to be even more of a nemesis for her. …

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