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Summary

Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell - the town she both loved and hated - to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn't for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind - and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah's severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasising about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though of course it was never meant to be. 

Motherwell is a sharp, unflinching and often humorous memoir about the long shadow that can be cast when the core relationship in your life compromises every effort you make to become an individual. It is about what we inherit - the good and the very bad - and how a deeper understanding of the place and people you have come from can bring you towards redemption. 

©2020 Deborah Orr (P)2020 Orion Publishing Group

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Mothering badly in Motherwell

"I love you, Deborah - you're my first born. But I don't like you - at all." This is one of the damagingly unkind things Deborah Orr's mother said to her grown-up daughter, along with telling her on another occasion that she was ugly. Deborah Orr grew up in Motherwell in Lanarkshire, a place she hated & loved, with her harsh Scots father, John, and Essex-born mother Win who ruined lives including her own by rages and poisonous sulks. Orr is brilliant at creating the 1960s & 1970s culture with her father's open loathing of Catholics & homosexuals; when girls immersed themselves in 'Jackie' & their mothers in The People's Friend; the high-rise flats built to re-house desperate people were quickly named Heroin Heights, the saplings planted to produce green spaces were snapped by out of control kids who ruled those bleak spaces along with the drug users. It was one of Deborah's achievements that she won a place at St Andrews university where her grudging mother allowed her to go only if she promised to return 'home' at the end of her time there. In fact Deborah fulfilled her parents' scathing warnings: she found the students alien & way too posh and descended into too much drink, too many spliffs, nasty sex and dropping out of her Honours course. Avoiding shame was Mrs Orr's driving force, a life principle against which Deborah constantly offended. When she brought a partner home to meet her parents (a bad idea) her father spent the night vomiting at the thought of his daughter sleeping with a man UNDER HIS ROOF to whom she wasn't married. Despite all, Deborah loved her parents fiercely and wanted to please her mother - even, she realised later, by marrying (unsuccessfully) and thus doing the 'right thing'. The whole book crackles with vitality including language. The narration by Gabriel Quigley creates accurately the different voices - Deborah's own, her mother's,& her father's in particular. Orr is scrupulously fair in showing her mother's good points as well as the tragedy of their destruction through her rages & her adherence to shame-avoiding rules.It is the sadness of it all which remains with me, not least the fact that Deborah did not live to see her book published. She had to escape her crushing parents, but despite her considerable successes as a journalist, damaged and constantly unquiet, it seems Deborah was for ever fighting to find answers to the answerable in her upbringing.

14 people found this helpful

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Laughs, sadness, anger.. This story has it all.

Weird title for a Mid 30s guy to choose but I live near Motherwell so thought why not. I Laughed, welled up, felt agry, sad.. The works.

5 people found this helpful

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Life Revisited

I loved this book. The perfect union of narrator and story is rare but appreciated

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Most honest and heartfelt book.

A very well written book. It took me back to my own childhood. Having a narcissistic mother is very difficult. I feel Deborah is a much more forgiving and kinder daughter than I am.

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An outstanding memoir but..

I hate to nitpick because I thought that this was a fine memoir and as a life-writing teacher I read lots of them. But unfortunately, a mistake on the technical side lets the audio version down. When speaking aloud the often scathing remarks made by Deborah's mother, the narrator switches accents from Scottish to English which is fair enough - the fact that her mother was an English woman living in Motherwell is pivotal to the story - but the trouble is that she also lowers her voice at the same time, making these remarks almost inaudible. Why didn't the person in charge of the sound realise that this was happening and turn up the volume? It sounds like a tiny point but when you also consider that Deborah's hugely complex relationship with her mother is also pivotal to the story makes this technical error much more important than it sounds.

4 people found this helpful

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Fascinating memoir

I really enjoyed this as the author was born just two years before me, so many of the references, despite the geographical distances, were familiar. I related to many aspects of her life and the story was beautifully woven through with the political climate of the times and its impact on this one local area, as well as the attitudes of her parents' generation. The reading was done well and brought real feeling to the various ups and downs of the author's life. My only criticism here is that the lowered voice used for quoting characters (particularly the mother) were so low that they were very fuzzy and unclear. I had to rewind several times, and had to rewind one quote four times to get what was being said.

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  • KF
  • 11-10-20

Best book I’ve read in years.

Magnificent, thought provoking, nostalgic and funny. I grew up in Motherwell and I absolutely loved this book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • GC
  • 14-09-20

Motherwell by Deborah Orr. A must read.

An exquisite, courageous & insightful book that leaves you wishing you had known Deborah Orr personally. A story that will resonate with so many. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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Outstanding

Brilliant book. Deborah Orr tells the story of her childhood as if she is relaying it to you over a drink. It's sad and funny and very, very insightful about people, their motivations and the culture that surrounds us. Beautifully subtle, sometimes cutting but also forgiving. What a loss that she is gone too soon. Expertly read for the audiobook with accents just right.

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A Beautiful Memoir

I truly adored this memoir. A story of the place Motherwell and a disfunctional but ultimately loving parental relationship. Beautifully read as well.

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  • Margaret
  • 02-07-20

Loved it.

Gabriel Quigley's reading of this sensitive and heartfelt memoir is magic, especially for anyone interested in Scotland.