Written in elegant and evocative prose, Salena Godden’s memoir could easily have veered into self pitying, misery memoir but her eternal optimism takes her story firmly out of that ground and into one of real hope and life.
Born to a Jamaican mother and Anglo-Irish father, Salena’s childhood story starts with the end of her parents’ marriage and their subsequent move to Northamptonshire. The Springfield Road of the title is in fact her paternal grandparents house in Hastings, which for Salena represents both the warmth of family and the pain of loss. As a child she scours the house for clues about her absent father, trying to glean facts of his childhood from abandoned toys, which is counterposed beautifully with the image of her Grandfather using the house equally to cling to his own memories, the kitchen unchanged and nothing thrown out since the death of his wife, Salena’s Grandmother in 1972.
Her recollections of her youth, growing up in Northamptonshire with her mother, brother and stepfather are beautifully rendered, and you feel the keenness of her observations when discovering the disparity in the treatment her and her brother receive from their stepfather compared to that of his own children. Some authors here would indulge in lamentations, but the joy of this book is that it never becomes maudlin – facts are observed and situations recounted with a level-headedness that stings all the more for its calm, measured re-telling. Nowhere is this more apparent than when, aged nine, Salena’s biological father, Paul, commits suicide. We see through the eyes of a child the struggle to process the gravity of the fact, and how she questioned her right to the grief she felt, the internal dilemmas at how much you are allowed to miss something you never had.
One aspect of the book that I feel worked really well was the juxtaposition of chapters written from adult Salena’s perspective, bringing the reader out of the past and into the modern day, and hearing her thoughts on the process of writing the very pages we have been reading. The beauty of her writing makes it easy to forget that we are not reading a novel, but someone’s true life story and hearing her struggles about getting it down on paper somehow mange to round the whole thing out, and give it a satisfying dimension.
Springfield Road is, in Salena’s own words, a tomcat of a book; sleek, elegant and beautiful but equally capable of scratching and causing pain – the racism and mistreatment she suffers alongside the heartbreaking loss of her father and the continual search to give meaning to his absence are shadows to the lightness and joy we find in her family, particularly her mother, and the optimism through which she is determined to view her life.
Words: Amy Crofts.