War Baby: A Dyslexic Life by Mike Strange
|War Baby by Mike Strange|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: From a world that could not diagnose dyslexia you might turn here for insight into that condition in vain, but the author's formative years are presented with humour and much anecdotal colour.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 282||Date: January 2018|
|Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform|
|External links: Author's website|
The author admits here that there is a peculiar ground where the autobiography of somebody very unfamous lies – it stands as a personal document for the family concerned, as much as a book to capture the attention of strangers. Either way, there are certainly events of note to be covered here – from an idyllic if damp Sussex farmhouse the lad gets evacuated, with his mother and gran, to maternal relatives in South Wales, and arrive back when it's clear we aren't about to be invaded – that is to say, just in time to be in the flightpath of all the doodlebugs and V2 rockets. A boisterous teenaged existence post-war leads to Mr Strange needing a few nudges to get into the academic world, at which he ultimately excels – even with a strong case of dyslexia.
So it is perhaps a little awkward to start by saying this book needs a revision before many dyslexics can tackle it with great success. The wartime years are marked out by there being white enemies growing in Waste Wood (it's supposed to be anemones, of course); the dyslexia threatens to parallelise his education; there are statutes of the Madonna; and a relative who lost her betrothed before the wedding had a bit of the Miss Faversham about her. Punctuation and sentence construction is awry more often than the usual typo, but it has to be on record as present.
I would sincerely wish for that re-edit to be done, however, for a lot of people will find some great merit on these pages. There's the incidental detail provided by the times, and how removed from us nowadays are people who drove without any formal teaching on the roads (believe it or not). Our author must be in a very small group indeed – that of people who have tried to sell a raffle ticket to a school mistress while she's sat, bloomers akimbo, on the loo. In fact the book can get quite scatological, what with the en plein air convenience in Wales, of sitting astride a hole in a bench, twenty feet above a raging river. I don't know, however, that when we get on to the different smells provided by family members in that regard we're on the family document side of things, or taking the detail-for-strangers approach.
With a whole hundred pages to cover before the narrator is in double figures there is a necessarily episodic nature to proceedings, however I didn't mind that – I didn't find anything to dislike in the style, although certainly in itemising the different relatives at one point the book does stray into longueur territory. The anecdotal, slightly chatty presentation, however, works for this kind of book, which never aspires to an accurate, diary format, but covers all bases from Doctors and Nurses to real medical problems, such as both arms being broken, and both legs in plaster due to an errant assault on a tea party's urn. Further medical details are featured in the second part, where the preponderance of short details build up into a suitably nightmarish look at single sex boarding schools, circa 1952.
But what we don't get, unfortunately, is anything about the medical side of things where the dyslexia is concerned. From the cover you'd assume the subtitle A Dyslexic Life would be meaningful, but it isn't. Partly I put this down to the man being happy enough to have got where he is today through hard work, and without any of the specialist help that was clearly non-existent in his days; he certainly doesn't use this as a forum to brag about how he got through university with what had for a long time been atrocious spelling (and even a stutter on occasions). But mostly the reason is that the book ends, with him entering the career that held him in good stead for a long time, with the problem still undiagnosed. That itself (just as is the talk of office parties in the era of Lucky Jim, etc) is a period detail, but I think in this instance it could have been belaboured more. Insight into the history of that diagnosis would make this book stand out on said autobiography-of-unknown shelf, and make a lot more than his nearest and dearest read with interest. Still, with scope for a part two blatantly laid out, pretty much a large proportion of this book's readers will be on board to learn more.
I must thank the author for my review copy.
If our author here isn't quite socialist enough for you, then Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith might be up your activist alley.
You can read more about Mike Strange here
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