MOTHERWELL

294 pages
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BY DEBORAH ORR

294 pages

With Mother’s Day around the corner, the Den decided to read Motherwell, the remarkable memoir written by the journalist Deborah Orr who sadly died last year aged 57. Set against the backdrop of Motherwell, a steel producing town outside Glasgow, it is a touching account about the pressures of growing up with parents, particularly a formidable mother, whose love is undeniable, but expectations for their daughter rigid and controlling. 

 

Growing up in the traditional industrial steel town of Motherwell during the '60s and '70s, life for the Orr family revolved round working at Ravenscraig steelworks. They lived in a small timber clad house (which was deemed better than the newly built blocks of flats) and for Deborah’s mother Win, it was about maintaining appearances whatever the costs. Although Win had left her Essex roots, where she met Deborah’s father John, they rarely ventured beyond the town’s safety net. John was funny and highly intelligent but barely able to write. He never took a day off sick and one of the most enlightening discoveries for Orr is when she discovers her parents had voted Tory. The closure of Ravenscraig steelworks in 1992 not only brought an end to large scale steel production in the area but it also destroyed the heartbeat of their town.

Orr explores her upbringing and the traditional patriarchal setting in which she grew up. She writes of her mother “I could never come near to persuading her, at any time, that I hadn’t done anything wrong by wanting sex, education, independence, a career.” Yet despite this suffocating environment, Orr was able to carve her own way in life. The question is at what costs to her own mental health. "I realise now that my mother’s main trouble was her pathological inability to understand at all that I was a separate entity from her.

 

Much of the story stems from the keepsakes Win tucked in the family bureau which show her mother’s love and pride in her daughter. Although the book has its dark moments, particularly when Deborah is unable to confide in her mother which clearly had huge detrimental effects, the book also recalls the many happy moments she shared with her mother, including their weekly visits to the library and watching their favourite films together. Family trips to New Lanark were a highlight as was wandering the surrounding countryside with her dog.

Today we live in a similar yet different world of overprotecting our kids so Orr gives us a wonderful legacy that we should love our children but at the same time respect them as individuals with their own lives to lead and be there when it matters. 

 

This book is an honest, poignant and remarkable memoir set against a unique political background – we can’t recommend it highly enough.

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