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Motherwell: A Girlhood

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,134 ratings  ·  189 reviews
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 ...more
Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published January 23rd 2020 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  2,134 ratings  ·  189 reviews

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Gemma Milne
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
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Deborah Orr's journalism was always a pleasure to read, and I enjoyed getting to know her abrasive personality on Twitter in the months before her death. The memoir of her childhood in Motherwell does a great job of evoking the time and the place, from the points system of council housing to the destruction of a town when its industry dies. Much of this was so very familiar to me as a Glaswegian who has visited Motherwell over the decades only ever to watch football, and once for a tattoo conven ...more
Lola Keeley
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir, also perhaps revenge? There is a lot of anger here, and rightly so on occasion. What is particularly interesting to me is the number of elements in the behaviour of the people around her in childhood which I recognise in the people around me - perhaps it was all less individual than both she and I have probably thought, and more the product of a particular era (I am the same age, more or less). The ways things were growing up in the 1960s and 1970s is instantly recognisable, even though ...more
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kirsty Keddie
Mar 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Everyone who grew up in SW Scotland in a similar time to Deborah will enjoy her evocation of those decades; the schemes; the Craig; school days. And sadly also perhaps recognise the typicality of Deborah’s early experience with men too. These parts of the book were well written.
What I found surprisingly badly written for an award winning journalist was the bad analysis of her family’s and indeed the whole community’s supposed narcissism which she came back to tediously time and again. I don’t th
Feb 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
I can see I am out of step with the general feelings on this book, but to me it was very dull - just another 'look at poor me' outpouring which did nothing to endear me to the author. Hopefully the reading will bring the pleasure to others that seems to be the view of the majority of reviewers as I hate to see effort go unrewarded. ...more
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable memoir.

One of my current aims is to read more memoirs, largely prompted by some critically-acclaimed releases such as Laura Cumming’s On Chapel Sands, a book that made my end-of-year highlights in 2019. Motherwell: A Girlhood is a memoir by the late Deborah Orr, the esteemed Guardian journalist who died from breast cancer last year. Rather than documenting Orr’s career in journalism, Motherwell focuses on the author’s childhood, mostly spanning the period from the mid-1960s through
Eloise Mcallister
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this, but I think the blurb made it sound like quite a different book.
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Very difficult to rate memoirs.
I thought the structure and much of the writing was messy.
This felt very much like a work in progress, which I guess shouldn't always be considered a bad thing. People are works in progress, and Deborah Orr obviously was very much so.
Sad she passed away, I don't think she even saw the publication day.
Mar 18, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

3.5 Stars!

“I didn’t know, until recently, that denying another person their own feelings is the foundation of all emotional abuse.”

Declining industry, rape, bullying, narcissistic parents and a succession of truly awful men don’t normally make for the most happy and upbeat of memoirs, but there we go. This is a far more coherent and satisfying memoir than her ex-husband’s which came out last year.

Orr examines her deeply complicated relationship with her prickly mother and stoical father. Her de
May 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
In many respects I liked this a lot. As a good memoir should, it describes with bleak honesty and reflective understanding the joys, miseries and privacies of childhood, and the deep ambiguity of her relationship with her parents. Their contradictions are laid bare; her father was - to her- a working class hero, a steelworker who was made redundant when Ravenscraig was closed, and who, like her mother, voted twice for Margaret Thatcher, and was anti-Labour, anti union, homophobic and racist (at ...more
Beth Godmon
I enjoyed about 50% of this book, as a historian I loved the retrospective look at childhood and adolescence in the 60s and 70s - Deborah Orr paints a vivid portrait of life as a post-war child and the challenges that her parents faced. I also enjoyed learning about her journey through life - I think its always inspiring to hear real stories of strong, successful women brought up in a working-class community - who haven't forgotten their roots.

The only aspect of this memoir that I struggled to s
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘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 ...more
Kris McCracken
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
I liked Deborah Orr in life, admired her journalism and was saddened to hear of her death. Similarly, her memoir resonated on many fronts: life in a stagnating, anti-intellectual northern industrial city. The smothering insularity. A mother who is at once supportive and subversive. That said, this didn't quite hit with me as I thought that it would. I understand the baggage that comes with emotionally distant parents, but couldn't help but will Orr to get over it and move on. Likely my fault rat ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-in-2020
I actually put off reading this as I thought it might be a bit brutal. It pulls no punches and is very honest but it's also very funny and full of affection. A really insightful depiction of family dynamics with a whole lot of other stuff - social history, geography even nature writing - thrown in. Just tragic that there won't be any more books. ...more
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Read for book group. Hard to tell who Orr disliked most, herself or her parents? Harsh critique of life growing up in the sixties and seventies when the lives of mothers were limited in ways we can barely comprehend today. Win was typical of her era and upbringing, Orr’s memoir was cruel and unsettling.
Catheryne Alicia
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
The late Deborah Orr’s memoir is full of honesty, grit and an abundance of reflection - both of herself and of the people who comprised her surroundings and those of her family. Orr was born in the 1960s and is therefore a couple of generations ahead of me, so this book actually provided an insight into the generation and cultural attitudes of my own mother, which I didn’t know I needed until now. Motherwell is a candid picture of 20th century working class life, the way money (or lack of) mould ...more
Catherine Fleet
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I was born a couple of years before Deborah Orr, and while we grew up in different home nations, there are some uncanny similarities in our early years upbringing. We both went through our childhood with adequate but limited family means, and attitudinal comparisons between our parents are really strong in a lot of areas. Some of the anecdotal writing resonates so very clearly with me that I can hear the words being said by her mother emanating from my mum’s mouth too. The boo ...more
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2020
This absolutely brilliant memoir about home, family, being a woman explores perfectly the complex web of experiences and relationships that make up our lives. I don't read much non-fiction but when I do I really enjoy it. I'm gutted I didn't get to discuss this at the book club Claire is running! Nevertheless I'm so glad I came across it through the book club! ...more
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was presented in 5, 15-minute segments by the BBC. I enjoyed listening to it, but nothing stood out to remember it by.
Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)
A beautifully written memoir.
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, honest and ever so sad as Deborah Orr died soon after finishing the book. The book is a testament to the time she grew up in Motherwell and the changes she witnessed. Her parents were products of the 1930s. Tough and bordering on the cruel and never being able to show their love to their children properly. That Deborah Orr's mother wanted her to have the same life that she had lived is very sad. That Deborah did not is testament to her strength and sheer bloody-mindedness.

She is a sad
Ruth This one
Oct 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Deborah Orr, the well known journalist shares the results that the parenting she received had on her life. It is poignant that she struggled for so much of her life, and then died so early, and that this book was published posthumously. There is anger, there is love, there is disappointment, and she throws her own passive aggressive bombs in the direction of her brother and her ex husband. I had no idea who she was married to until I googled it, and am not surprised her marriage was not easy.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So muchly love forward this book.
Catherine Jeffrey
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
Read for the Blackwells book group. This is a harsh account of Deborah Orr’s childhood in Motherwell.
The family bureau offered up an interesting insight into her childhood from the selection of items that had been retained by her parents. But she alternated between acknowledging the love and support she was given by her parents, then was fiercely critical of them. I also felt the sections on narcissism were repetitive.
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think I will think about this book for some time as it resonates with me in all kinds of ways. The author talks about her childhood, growing up in a small Scottish housing estate through to her mid twenties, with small tidbits about her marriage thrown in. Being from a similar vintage as her, the cultural references made sense to me, and that feeling of wanting to get away from home at 18, heading off to University and trying to have a relationship with your parents as an adult. Also the refer ...more
Paula Glancy
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Moving and all very familiar of growing up in working class Lanarkshire, but at times I found Orr’s writing of her relationship with her mum and her mum’s narcissistic qualities difficult to read in one go, quite heavy going.

Her description of the choice to move away from Motherwell for uni being unusual also rings true, as does her experience of feeling alien as a Scottish person with a ‘thick’ accent in a ‘Scottish Uni’ - felt very true of my time in Edinburgh.

Did make me want to go home and
Aug 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book. Deborah Orr was one of the columns I always turned to in the Guardian as an insightful journalist and I was looking forward to reading her account of growing up in Scotland around the same time I did.

There are good bits in this book. The accounts of living in those times when heavy industry was at its peak, with most of the town employed or supported by it in some shape or form, through the destruction of that in Scotland and, well almost everywhere else, by the Tory
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
DNF. Realised I was skim reading at 170 pages and gave up. Bit of a misleading blurb - I got the impression this book would consist mainly of Orr’s life after leaving Motherwell and maybe ruminating on her childhood throughout. Instead, we begin with Orr sorting through items after her parents’ deaths (the bureau trope didn’t work for me) and then the first hundred pages or so are a disorganized jumble of details about her great-grandparents and grandparents, prior to Orr even being born (which ...more
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21 likes · 6 comments
“Is memoir therapy? Or is it vengeance?” 1 likes
“We were alike, my dad and I, more alike than my mother and I, both in looks and in character. Finding fault with my dad was like finding fault with myself. We all have a tendency to feel the most empathy with the people who remind us most of ourselves. Yet I am like my mother too. We are all like each other, the four of us. That’s the inescapable fact of family.” 0 likes
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