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Bad Blood

Lorna Sage <em>Fourth Estate, 281pp, £6.99</em>

ISBN 1841150436

Lorna Sage was professor of English literature at the University of East Anglia, a respected literary critic and a tireless champion of women's writing. When she died in January, Bad Blood had just won the 2000 Whitbread Award for Biography, which both surprised and delighted her.

As a friend and former student of Lorna's, I approached this book expecting to find her rapacious intellect and devilish humour conveyed in prose of effortless precision. But I was even more enthralled by the Lorna I did not know, the girl who grew up in the gothic gloom of a Shropshire village in the 1950s, as revealed in this candid memoir.

With an acute sensitivity to local colour and smell, she evokes terrifyingly vivid portraits of her childhood; her clergyman grandfather might have leapt straight from the pages of a 19th-century novel. From the turmoil of teenage love and pregnancy to the incipient stages of her literary life, Bad Blood is more than a match for Maxim Gorky's classic memoir, My Childhood.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Best of young British