Book five of my 12 in 12 Challenge for August is a memoir by Deborah Orr of her childhood growing up in Scotland. The title Motherwell describes her location but also her ongoing difficult relationship with her mother who she felt did not mother her well. The author was born in the early 1960s so her era is much the same as mine and I recognised a lot of the attitudes and activities that she describes.
Although the author signals from the beginning that this book is about her problems with her mother there isn’t a lot about them at the start of the book. Her reflection of her childhood is interesting enough although her life was not distinctly different from many others. She does say that she was effectively brought up in a family cult because her parents were so strict but I didn’t really get a feel for this. I did understand, however, that her father was a bigot and a racist who made up obnoxious names for people he didn’t like – the author understands this but loves him anyway.
What does come across in the early part of the book is her parents’ ineffectiveness. They do not seem like proactive people and they accept external authority. Deborah feels that they don’t stand up for her and she is clear that she has issues with her brother being more favoured than she was – there is every indication from what she says that this difficult sibling relationship has moved into adulthood. Deborah is obviously a very bright child in a home which is not prepared for this and doesn’t know how to support her. Their mechanism for coping is to try and have Deborah fit their model for the daughter they would have preferred and who they would better have understood.
Deborah is sure that her mother had a narcissistic personality. Every situation is about her and the impact on her life. Although the author is sure of this and gives some examples I didn’t really see what she meant during most of her childhood. Where it becomes an issue is when Deborah wants to travel away for university and her parents refuse to support her, wanting her to continue to live at home. This is the ultimate example of their narcissism according to the author and I see what she means although it could also be partly because of their lack of vision and very narrow horizons.
In the end, though, Deborah does get her way although she finds that she doesn’t enjoy university life the way she expected and soon becomes much more interested in extra-curricular activities. She regularly challenges her parents’ tolerance and beliefs and finds them unsympathetic. Eventually she moves away, marries, has a family, divorces and is unable to feel reconciled with her mother even at the end.
I am not quite sure why the author wrote this memoir. It feels very much as though she was trying, finally, to make her point and give her side of the subject. The problem for me was that I didn’t feel that she sufficiently showed me exactly what the issue was. I really didn’t get a full feel for the relationship and her mother’s character. I definitely felt that Deborah had some responsibility for the issues between herself and her parents as she grew older. I didn’t understand why she loved her father so much because the way that she describes him is not sympathetic. In the end I didn’t like any of them much.