An unconventionally poignant memoir by British novelist Penelope Mortimer (The Pump loin Eaters) of her bizarre first 21 years, 1918-1939. Penelope grew up knowing no affection save the ""fumbling in my knickers"" of a quite mad vicar father who lost religion early on; and knowing no guideposts beyond her austere mother's unamplified ""selfish and ungrateful."" Blessedly soon after the family left Penelope's first, enchanting country home, the gadfly vicar discovered anthroposophy, whose spiritualism appealed to his wife, and ""as a family, we seemed for a while almost normal."" But when he plunged into communism, Mortimer was packed off to a too-progressive school where ""everyone else was 'difficult'--and probably selfish and ungrateful as well."" She couldn't abide the liberty of it all, yet she couldn't stay at home either: her hopelessly mismatched parents, splendidly summoned forth here, were incapable of ""making a habit of loving: To my mother, it was a threat, a disruption. . . to be kept at bay; to my father, love was loud and operatic, with many intervals."" So, until she headed for London at 17, Mortimer boarded at the school for Daughters of the Clergy. ""God, of course, was much in evidence,"" but Mortimer, a regular fixture on the Disgrace Bench, mostly avoided Him. For all the queer chill of her childhood, she was an irrepressible sort. But, except in her own notebooks, she was almost always betrayed--when she sent home her shillings to finance a visit from her mother; when she ran off from school to impress the revolution-minded vicar; when she stuck by the Oxford man who took charge of her programmed ""deflowering."" The impact of all her deprivation strikes like whiplash at the dispiriting, unfinished end when Mortimer--casually married and a stranger to responsibility--cavalierly abandons her own child for the action of wartime London. Somehow, she has tempered her hard feelings, and in her urge to celebrate, she makes the most of her precious little.