A few years before her sister Nell died of breast cancer at the age of 46, Clover Stroud was at a party. Another guest asked about her family. Did she work with her sister? “No,” Stroud replied. “I am the one without the circus, the one with all the kids who writes about how life feels.”
Nell was the founder of the vintage style Giffords Circuswhile Stroud is a journalist and author of the sensationally honest memoirs The wild other and My wild and sleepless nights. The red of my blood, yet another breathtaking deep dive into her world, is her third book, and while it’s very much about how life feels, it’s also an exploration of death, a tribute to Nell, and a howl of love and rage. It is an elegy of unparalleled beauty for an extraordinary woman, written by her equally idiosyncratic younger sister.
When Stroud writes that she “took a picture of [Nell] when she was dead and I look at it sometimes if I feel completely strong or unusually ruthless and I can tell you she was golden. She was like a god ”, it captures so much – the pain of grief, her inability to look away, the self-awareness of her own caution. “I had felt extremely strange taking that picture,” Stroud continues, but she’s glad she did.
In this and countless other ways, she aims at conventional approaches to death and instead seeks to understand Nell’s death and the absurd idea that life will continue without her.
She is sharply sardonic on our dead’s popular anthropomorphic avatars. “It seems to me that we are investing roots and butterflies with an almost solemn and enormously overburdened responsibility to be the people we love. There are MANY people flying around in robins. “
But she also looks for signs of Nell everywhere and combines family life everyday (packed lunches, cat food) with magical thinking while looking at the knights from her children’s books to help in her quest for understanding. Sex, roll-up cigarettes, old text messages and metaphysical poetry are just as valid ways she understands her loss.
While The red of my blood is deeply personal, it also plays on the background of the pandemic – Nell died in December 2019. First, Stroud is isolated in his grief, then Covid makes everyday life something valuable but painful. “I felt a little offended, as if a lot of people had suddenly moved into an anteroom I had quietly sat in for myself.”
She is very good in her rage against gossip, friends and strangers as well as the seemingly incomprehensible people she meets who have not experienced trauma or loss.
This is a book that attracts its readers and speaks to them. There are typographic flourishes – large types, different fonts – that feel like an attempt to communicate Stroud’s new way of being in every possible way, and in the end she moves towards a kind of peace with life without Nell.
“I saw I had a choice,” she writes. “I could try to turn the thing that sometimes made me feel like I could faint with pain – that is, my sister’s death – into the thing that could make me want to live more of this life. “
The Red of My Blood: A Death and Life Story by Clover Stroud (Doubleday, £ 16.99) is out now