Motherwell
'Raw, compelling, wise and tender' Dolly AldertonMotherwell is razor-sharp, fearless and wonderful' Adam Kay'Utterly unflinching and staggeringly good, both as the history of a woman and the history of a place' India KnightJust 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, fantasizing 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, candid 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.

Motherwell Details

TitleMotherwell
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJan 23rd, 2020
PublisherWeidenfeld & Nicolson
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Feminism, Biography

Motherwell Review

  • Lola Keeley
    January 1, 1970
    In tears by the end, I knew this would be a tough read emotionally but it really did get me. It’s the town I’m from, and there’s so much I recognise even as so much of it changed and keeps changing. The familial stuff was the hardest, as I suspected. The thing about being from somewhere small that doesn’t produce many people like you is that you relate so hard to anyone else who gets out, who writes, who has the same struggles and connections. Saddest of all is the peace Deborah seemed to have In tears by the end, I knew this would be a tough read emotionally but it really did get me. It’s the town I’m from, and there’s so much I recognise even as so much of it changed and keeps changing. The familial stuff was the hardest, as I suspected. The thing about being from somewhere small that doesn’t produce many people like you is that you relate so hard to anyone else who gets out, who writes, who has the same struggles and connections. Saddest of all is the peace Deborah seemed to have found by the end, only to be robbed of more years to enjoy that peace. This might be the most tearful book review I’ve ever written so sorry if it doesn’t make much sense!
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  • Angela
    January 1, 1970
    I read an uncorrected proof, in advance of the January 2020 publication, so I can’t say too much. Except to say that this memoir is exceptional. Poignant, beautiful, heartbreaking - even more so since the author’s premature death. I hope her children take some comfort in reading this in their grief - or further down the line - so that they may better know and understand their mother, and their grandparents. It’s tragic and insightful and I didn’t want it to end.
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  • Gemma Milne
    January 1, 1970
    I really needed to read this book. And I knew it from the moment I’d heard about it. I pre-ordered it so it arrived on launch day - yesterday - and I’ve just spent the better part of both today and last night devouring it.It’s a memoir. By a journalist - who sadly passed away last year, meaning her words have been published posthumously - who grew up in the Scottish town of Motherwell.The book touches on class, on individualism, on moving away (both mentally and physically) from a small Scottish I really needed to read this book. And I knew it from the moment I’d heard about it. I pre-ordered it so it arrived on launch day - yesterday - and I’ve just spent the better part of both today and last night devouring it.It’s a memoir. By a journalist - who sadly passed away last year, meaning her words have been published posthumously - who grew up in the Scottish town of Motherwell.The book touches on class, on individualism, on moving away (both mentally and physically) from a small Scottish town. It dives into narcissism, motherhood, family, pride, shame.I read it and felt so defensive at times, so narcissistic at times, so sad at times, and yet so joyful throughout.It was like when someone is saying something resonant and you can just FEEL the agreement and acknowledgement and YESMETOO pulsing through you so hard that all you can do is enthusiastically nod and smile and YEPYEPYEP, cheering them on as they go.My life has been both so different and so similar than Orr’s; mine far less traumatic. And it was like reading my own thoughts at times; my own shameful thoughts as well as ones that I’m proud of. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so affected by a book.I’ve been thinking a lot about class, mobility and home of late, which made it even more of a journey that felt so tied to my current emotions and state of mind.In short, this book will stay with me forever. I don’t know if it will do that for everyone, mind you. But I whole-heartedly recommend it all the same.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    ‘Motherwell’, Deborah Orr’s memoir of her formative years in this town and her later escape to university and beyond, is a searing, honest and incredibly moving account of a child of the 60s and teenager of the 70s. Many of the political references and domestic detail cast me back to my own, albeit different, youth and, for these details alone, this may well be a fascinating read for our children’s generation as well. How they might wonder at our naivety, our pleasure over the most basic of ‘Motherwell’, Deborah Orr’s memoir of her formative years in this town and her later escape to university and beyond, is a searing, honest and incredibly moving account of a child of the 60s and teenager of the 70s. Many of the political references and domestic detail cast me back to my own, albeit different, youth and, for these details alone, this may well be a fascinating read for our children’s generation as well. How they might wonder at our naivety, our pleasure over the most basic of toys, the knowledge that we had to make our own entertainment day in, day out!But this is not an account seen through the haze of rose-tinted spectacles. Deborah Orr wipes away any nostalgic miasma firmly and effectively. Instead, the lens are polished ferociously and her troubled relationship with her family laid bare. However, neither is this a misery memoir in the expected sense. Orr is loved by her parents; they encourage her in her interests and are proud of her academic achievements – as long as they fit in with their world view. She is to stay at home, keeping her mother company until she marries and has a family of her own. Many younger readers will be amazed that this Victorian attitude prevailed into the 1980s. However, it was not so unusual, particularly for working families living in close-knit communities, many of whom had scant opportunity for change.Whilst it is hard to stomach the everyday little cruelties dealt Orr as she began to fashion a life for herself, it is really uplifting to read how she slowly manages to become an independent woman involved in work that she loves. It is even more incredible to see her quest for the truth as she re-visits the parenting she received, and its effect on her and her brother, her parents’ relationship, and why her own relationships were so often toxic. Much of this is explored through her understanding of narcissism which leads on to her argument for its prevalence in the West.This is an engrossing and thought-provoking read: moving, shocking, funny and uplifting. What a tragedy that they are amongst her final words in print.My thanks to NetGalley and Orion Publishing Group for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.
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  • Victoria Sadler
    January 1, 1970
    When memoirs are great, they are breath-taking. And what makes a good memoir? For me, honesty, revelation and one that can capture how the individual life fits into wider social changes. That’s what I’m after. I want the personal, yes, but when it brings to life the experiences of a community too, that’s when you know you’re on to something special. And Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr, is very special indeed.Now, I can’t claim to be too familiar with Deborah’s work as a journalist, so it When memoirs are great, they are breath-taking. And what makes a good memoir? For me, honesty, revelation and one that can capture how the individual life fits into wider social changes. That’s what I’m after. I want the personal, yes, but when it brings to life the experiences of a community too, that’s when you know you’re on to something special. And Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr, is very special indeed.Now, I can’t claim to be too familiar with Deborah’s work as a journalist, so it wasn’t that which drew me to this; more, it was what Deborah was exploring.Born and raised in Lanarkshire in Scotland, Deborah lived in a working-class community decisively shaped by the nearby steelworks. The cradle of Labour and betrayed by Thatcher, Motherwell was also a community blighted by sectarianism.And all of this provides the backdrop and the context to Deborah’s childhood. But whilst all this impacted the home, Deborah’s focus in her memoir is critically centred around her fractious, at times even toxic, relationship she had with her parents, and specifically her mother, Win.“For a time, it felt like only sexual abuse and serious neglect could have a negative psychological impact on a child. A psycho analyst told me, when I was fifty-five, that it was the little things that you needed to watch out for…”Deborah’s writing is blindingly good. She captures in her mother a woman so at odds with herself, caught up in ‘keeping up appearances’, battling with a lack of agency yet, all the while, misdirecting all her bitterness and anger towards her only daughter. It’s a distressing observation on narcissism and self-loathing, but it also reflects the wider societal battles for women then and now: for Win, her life had to revolve around her husband and when she found that her daughter wanted a freer life, it shook her to her core.Yet Motherwell is not a depressing book. In places, it’s even brilliantly charming and funny (“We had our own sink, in the kitchen-cum-living room. Open-plan, as it’s called today.”) but it is also immensely profound.Sadly, Deborah is no longer with us, having died from cancer last year, but her memoir is a brilliant legacy. It is an extraordinarily good memoir.
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  • Calum Falconer
    January 1, 1970
    I don’t think I’d heard of Deborah Orr until just before she died, but felt compelled to read her book, interested in her upbringing in a Scottish town. “Motherwell” is beautifully complex and thoughtful - an intriguing examination of the nuances and effects of childhood and parental relationships.
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  • John Feetenby
    January 1, 1970
    Exceptionally perceptive as autobiographies go. This is a great deal less culpatory than I thought it would be, but there is a tightly controlled subsurface fury that makes the whole book hum. It’s irresistible.
  • Kate Wyver
    January 1, 1970
    (unsure how to write this considering the multitude of v sad circumstances but I found it q hard to engage with until about pg 200)
  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    BBC Radio 4 book of the week. Mildly interesting but nothing more.
  • Wendy Temple
    January 1, 1970
    Raw, emotional, powerful and uncompromising laced with a hint of humour.
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