Sally Bayley built her life out of books. She had to. Her upbringing was unusual, chaotic, and difficult. She put herself into care at the age of 14, in a bid to change things, and managed it – she was the first person from the West Sussex County Council care system to study at university. Girl With Dove is a memoir of her early years, and a tale of how ordinary things can have an extraordinary impact.
Bayley grew up with varying relatives and friends in a dilapidated house by the sea. Despite a rather floundering approach to parenting, Sally’s grandmother and mother did instil in her a love of reading. That love took her to the library, where she battled with officious librarians to have access to the books that would make her heart sing over the next few years. No Peter and Jane for Sally. It was Jane Eyre, Miss Marple, and David Copperfield. These books saved her.
They helped her get through the first fourteen years in the drifting house called home, and then through a care home called Colwood, and later foster care. They helped her in what she calls a ‘second life.’ But despite starting something new, her old life always influences her, as ‘every place you’ve lived in has something you carry with you.’
The book is written in fragments and broken sentences. It meanders and jumps. Characters enter and exit with alarming frequency. There’s no real sense of a plot. It’s all a bit bizarre. In this way it echoes Bayley’s life. The style is another tool for revealing story.
Jane Eyre is often dismissed as being ‘plain’ – it’s something she calls herself (‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart!’ she says to Rochester). But she has imagination, and as Bayley says ‘imagination radically alters things. It changes outlooks and aspects, of people and places, moods and feelings.’ This book has imagination too, and spades of it.