The Consequences of Love by Gavanndra Hodge review – blighted past of a Chelsea girl

Sarah Hughes

To the outside eye, Gavanndra Hodge’s childhood must have seemed impossibly glamorous. Her father, the celebrity hairdresser Gavin Hodge, was a man about town and spinner of near-mythic tales; her mother, Jan, a former model. They lived with their two children, Gavanndra and Candy, in a mansion flat in Battersea, not far from Chelsea’s stylish Kings Road.

Yet appearances are all too often deceptive and Hodge’s childhood, as this fine memoir makes clear, was an altogether more precarious affair.

Sitting up late at night with her father, the seven-year-old Hodge would silently worry about fire and death as members of Chelsea’s drug-addicted aristocracy paraded through, eager to buy the newest batch of “Afghani” from her father, who would join them in shooting up, nodding off and getting high.

“I could sense their anticipation. It was like electricity … they played with lighters, examined their hands, jiggled their feet. They tapped their cigarettes against the ashtrays, sometimes spilling and leaving molten crumbs …. Sometimes I would spring up and stub one out with my toe.”

At the centre of The Consequences of Love is a tragedy: the shocking death of Hodge’s younger sister, Candy, on a family holiday in Tunisia. Candy was nine when she died from a rare airborne virus and Hodge doesn’t flinch from describing her horrifying final moments: “You were running, one way and then the next, as though you were being hunted and you didn’t know the way to safety …. A trickle of phlegmy blood dribbled down the side of your mouth, making a zigzagging trail of red spots on the carpet.”

The tragedy destroys Hodge’s family, sending her father back to the bottle and needle and leading her mother to find solace in religion. Eventually, after another act of betrayal, they divorce. Candy, meanwhile, is “locked away” in a series of boxes, one holding the clothes and toys she most loved and the other her ashes.

Hodge herself goes on to build a successful career in journalism, becoming the deputy editor of Tatler. She achieves this by building a wall between past and present, so that “when people meet me, they do not see the daughter of a philandering junkie, they do not see the girl who watched her sister die in a hotel room in Tunisia, they see an articulate, educated, confident woman. They see success, not skin-of-the-teeth survival.”

The cost of sealing off those memories lies at the heart of this story. Hodge marries, has two children and builds an outwardly perfect life. Yet, beneath that swanlike surface, her legs are paddling like mad, desperately trying to hold everything together and, more importantly, to keep that past from seeping through.

It doesn’t always work. Hodge is honest about the drunken nights and hungover mornings when she hides from her children and husband, about the ways in which her history constantly threatens to ambush her and the “strange thoughts” that she tells no one about because “they are horrible and ugly and I don’t want other people to hear them. It might make them think that I am horrible and ugly, too”.

She is similarly acute at describing her lost teenage years, in which she and her friends hang out at her father’s last remaining salon, snorting cocaine with him while he flirts indiscriminately. “Everyone else took their turn, bending forwards over the table, each of them, one by one, in front of my father, their shirts falling open, while he watched and twinkled with great satisfaction.”

This would be almost unbearable to read were it not for the compassion with which Hodge tells her dark tale and the relationships at its core. For The Consequences of Love is not only the story of how Hodge came to let her memories of her younger sister back in, but also that of her relationship with another sister, Maranda, her father’s daughter by an earlier liaison, and the forging of a friendship that isn’t always easy but which becomes steadfast and true.

Most of all, however, this memoir is an acknowledgment that love demands a price. As a child, Hodge loved her father with an intensity that not only ignored his flaws but also gilded them with a tarnished glamour. Now, as an adult, she admits, “he damaged people and that damage lives on even though he has gone”.

Yet, as this wise and moving memoir makes clear, if you are prepared to meet the price – to accept unflinchingly all the different parts that live within you, both beautiful and ugly, and to acknowledge that others see and love them, too – then the rewards are worth the heartache.

The Consequences of Love by Gavanndra Hodge is published by Michael Joseph (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15