Monday, 27 January 2014

My Animals & Other Family - Clare Balding

I have to admit to having only a passing knowledge of who Clare Baldwin is but, as a friend had read this autobiography and recommended it, when the opportunity to read this for the Britmums' Book Club arose I thought I'd give it a go.

As the title suggests, Clare uses the different animals in her life to track her experience of childhood, from dogs to ponies, weaving a tale of personal and family struggles with humour and affection.  Fortunately you don't have to be a big horse racing fan to enjoy reading it, although an appreciation of the importance of pets is probably a factor.

The style is very easy to read and the humour carries you through what could otherwise be at times a rather depressing story of wealthy child neglect.  From a work-a-holic, distant father to a domineering grandmother and a downtrodden, unsympathetic mother, Claire childhood was not ideal.  However, she responds - both in childhood and as a writer - to her treatment by these three characters without any self-pity and with a rare understanding of the situations each was in.  I can only imagine that writing this was cathartic for her.

I did find myself sympathising with her mother more often than not as Clare describes her 'rascally' behaviour - not really naughty, but certainly heedless.  I can imagine this woman, with little support from husband or mother, trying to manage a headstrong, tomboy of a daughter who seems to have little appreciation of danger, and ultimately despairing.  In fact, there are occasions when I found myself wondering how Clare - or more often her brother - managed to survive the various accidents and incidents that occurred through her own impulsiveness or her father's carelessness.

As she grows up her passion for horses carries you into the world of horse racing, and you'll find yourself wishing you could join her in the chase.

A great book to read on lazy evenings in front of the fire, with  your own children safely tucked up in bed.  Or, dip in as time allows to read a chapter or two, revelling in the affection of animals and the crazy capers of small children and the drive of young people with ambition.



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