An honest memoir of two complex relationships

In this posthumous memoir following her death in October 2019, Deborah Orr explores the deeply complex relationship she had with both her home town of Motherwell and her mother.

Orr was an award-winning journalist renowned for her unapologetic and candid column writing through which she gained a loyal following across the newspapers she worked for.

It was in her column for the Guardian in 2017 that she revealed her diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from her working-class childhood and the problematic relationship she had with her parents. From there she decided to write this memoir.

Much to the disapproval of her parents, the young Orr set her sights on going to university and leaving Motherwell to carve out her own career and a life away from the trappings of traditional domesticity. Orr discloses some traumatic memories which include those that are all too familiar for a woman coming of age in a time before the #MeToo era.

Orr’s account of what it was like growing up in Motherwell in the 60s and 70s highlights an attitude which commanded conformity and a resistance towards anything or anyone considered to be different. I found it tragically fascinating to read Orr describe her parents as ‘the jailers that I loved’.

This gives a sense of the problematic relationship Orr had while she tried to navigate her way through a modern world which both her mother and father seemed so very reluctant to be a part of.

Many of Orr’s generation will recognise the harsher realities of living in a working-class town in Scotland during the period of deindustrialisation. Orr shines the harsh light of reality on the many pitfalls for the baby boomer generation.

The book illustrates the lasting effects of broken relationships, trauma and the idea that all of us are haunted by something in one way or another.

Honest, raw and deeply moving, this memoir is a commentary on the bond between parent and child combined with the inherent desire to establish one’s own identity.

Motherwell: A Girlhood, by Deborah Orr, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £16.99.

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