The Sunday Times Memoir of the Year, MAGGIE AND ME by Damian Barr, is our April Non-Fiction choice: discuss the book and win a free copy here

(55 Posts)

The death of Margaret Thatcher happened to coincide with the publication of this brilliant memoir, giving it extra wind in its sails. But this is not exactly a Maggie book. It is a deeply moving tragicomedy about growing up different in a small town in the Eighties. Out of his horrific childhood Damian Barr has managed to create a joyful, funny book that is as uplifting as it is shocking. Damian is a lanky, geeky, gay kid growing up in a tough Scottish community based around the heavy industry that Maggie is about to destroy. When he is 8 years old, his mother leaves his steel-worker father to live with Logan, a violent abuser. They eventually escape, but Damian's mother turns to drink, leaving him pretty much abandoned. Yet Damian still manages to survive all this with a deft wit and a belief that he can escape to a better life. His use of irony is beautifully subtle, and throughout the book his courage and resilience are astonishing. Not only is he an extraordinarily funny writer, he is also hugely admirable in his lack of bitterness or self-pity. A life-enhancing, positive and inspiring read, not to be missed.

Bloomsbury have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters: to apply for your free copy, please fill in your details on the Non-fiction book of the month page.

If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

If you get a free copy, we do expect you to come and and tell us what you think. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and look forward to hearing your thoughts…

Queazy Wed 02-Jul-14 18:14:31

I read this book on holiday, and absolutely loved it. An amazing writer, and writes his personal story so honestly, so humbly and with sensitivity. I honestly cried, laughed, and cried a bit more at this book. Amazing book, amazing writer. He went through so much, and proved to everyone just how bloody brilliant he really is. I can't praise this book enough.

BlackSusie2004 Tue 27-May-14 13:05:48

I really enjoyed this book, I was born 5 years before Damian Barr, so I remember the world he's writing about and it brought back some memories, both good and bad.
My background was very different, and I grew up in the East Midlands rather than the North, which is always painted as being harder, and my family weren't dysfunctional, but, as well as sexual orientation, anyone who dared to be 'different' got a hard time of it.
I am fairly political, but I was pleased the book did not centre on Margaret Thatcher, instead giving an emotional insight into how the author's informative years were, in a well-written easy-to-read style which left you unable to put it down!

queenoftheschoolrun Fri 23-May-14 06:57:21

Another one who enjoyed it. I grew up in the same era and found it very interesting seeing someone from a completely different background's view of the events of the day.

The matter of fact narration of the atrocities he endured is particularly striking. As is the love he evidently has for both parents despite their ineptitude and neglect. A fascinating read.

Southeastdweller Wed 14-May-14 21:29:53

Not for me, I'm afraid. I thought the book would have benefited from a less detached, more emotional tone and some of the people in the book were written as one-dimensional (like the stepfather). I'd have appreciated more humour, too, and the writing had the occasional flash of flair but was mostly pedestrian. The Thatcher link was weak and perhaps a calculated device from the author to add heft to a very familiar genre - I simply didn't buy that she in anyway influenced him. However, being of the same vintage to Damian, I did enjoy the 80's and 90's pop culture references.

BigGapMum Tue 13-May-14 21:45:40

I wasn't really expecting to be too enthralled with this book, as the multitude of tales of childhood woe around now don't appeal to me much, but I was so wrong! I became engrossed.

Starting from very early memories he told the story the story of his impoverished childhood within a dysfunctional family environment. Obviously different from others in more than one way, he was picked out for unfavourable attention and abuse. My heart went out to him numerous times, most noticeably when he used the phrase "and that's the last of my baby teeth". No self pity there, just a factual description of the run up to the assault.

The book raised a few questions within me. Why did no-one intervene when he must have been so visibly injured regularly? Why wasn't his father helping him more? How did he manage to get a bedroom to himself when there are five people sharing another bedroom. No answer is forthcoming to these questions, but the book shared his story of how a poor, studious, gay boy could survive, mature and escape working class Scotland and escape to a different life.

Well done Damian. You have truly earned a better life.

mjmooseface Tue 13-May-14 16:26:59

Cavylover's first comment described this book perfectly.

I read this as someone who was born 16 years after Damian Barr. I don't believe my family were affected in a huge way by Margaret Thatcher's time as Prime Minister. If they were, she was never talked about. I learnt about her in school and was amazed by the way the country reacted to her death. The hatred that people could feel for one person.

This book gave an entirely different perspective for me to consider. Whilst decisions made by Margaret Thatcher affected Damien's life in negative ways, and although every one around him hated her and tried to impose their opinion on him, Damien was able to make up his own mind about her which I think is amazing.

It is always heart warming to hear how people have overcome great obstacles in life to get to where they are today. I agree with a lot of what other people have commented: This book wasn't written with a voice of self pity. It was wonderfully written. It was very absorbing read. It's why it's taken me a while to review. I wanted to finish it first! I found when it had finished I wanted to read more!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book!

hackmum Sun 11-May-14 12:44:06

Am about half way through this now. Think it's fantastic. I put off reading it because I vaguely disapprove of (or possibly am envious of) people who manage to gain literary success by writing a memoir. Especially if they're younger than me - I mean, the 80s isn't really the past as far as I'm concerned.

But it's brilliant. So well-observed, warm, funny and heartbreaking. I'm amazed that anyone can bring their childhood to life with such vivid detail.

CountBapula Sun 11-May-14 05:55:42

I loved this. As other posters have said, what's remarkable about it is the lack of self-pity. That's one of the things that elevates it from mere 'misery memoir' status (that and the quality of the writing itself).

The violent scenes made me wince, but in a way it was the emotional abuse that I found more upsetting, like the mum's boyfriend stamping on the certificate he won, or Mary refusing to give him his dad's phone number sad (Though I was confused and shock at the fridge-freezer scene - horrific.)

I read Damian Barr's first book, Get It Together, when I was in my mid- to late twenties and starting to wonder what the hell I was doing with my life. It was written very much from the point of view of the young urban professional, and I just assumed his upbringing had been middle-class, even privileged. I was stunned to find out what he actually had to go through, and full of admiration for how he managed to overcome his childhood and pursue his dreams.

Truly inspiring. Thank you MN Bookclub.

I'm so glad you all liked it as much as me (especially my ex-swapper Aristocat!) I hoped it wouldn't be a disappointment after my effusive posts.

Thank you so much for this. Finished it over the weekend and found it utterly absorbing. His story is in many ways so miserable, yet I never found him to be self pitying or resentful. His style is great, direct and unfussy with loads of attention to details of the period. A real life Adrian Mole as if imagined by Irvine Welsh.

aristocat Wed 30-Apr-14 14:33:31

A super read, thank you smile

I loved this book and as an 80s girl it was very nostalgic! I thought the author had an easy flowing style to his writing and I will definitely look for more books that he has written.

I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have read in ages. Well done Mr Barr.

alialiath Tue 29-Apr-14 23:29:26

A thoroughly enjoyable read, even though I found it a very emotional read as no child should have to endure Damian Barr's Rab C Nesbittesque upbringing, and I wanted to rescue him.
It wasn't all doom and gloom, and there was a couple of incidences of pure classic Scottish dry wit that had me rolling in laughter, in particular when he could get the hang of decimal fractions at school, because he couldn't see the point of it.

Despite his horrific upbringing, Damian, through his own sheer hard will and graft did well in his life, attended uni, which eventually led him to becoming a successful journalist

Even though he's moved up in the world, and now lives at the opposite side of the country, I was so pleased that he's maintained his friendship with his childhood (girlfriend) Heather.

cavylover Mon 28-Apr-14 15:18:43

Brave and honest autobiography of a young gay man living in Glasgow during the Thatcher era, hence the title, who despite the many setbacks he suffered managed to make a great success of himself eventually becoming a Journalist. Many references in the book to popular culture of the time, Dynasty, Dirty Dancing and Hart to Hart crop up in the book painting a vivid picture of the time period the book is set in. All in all an excellent read. Thank you.

violetwellies Sun 27-Apr-14 20:59:38

I so enjoyed this, although the life that Damian Barr had to endure as a child was in many ways horrific he managed to put this across in a way that, I can completely without irony say, was absolutely delightful.
A really good read.
I was aware, mostly because of what my parents told me - and some of my degree subject, that Glasgow in the 1950's was a place of much poverty and social deprivation, I don't know why I felt that things were much improved by the 1980's. but obviously they weren't.
Well done Mr Barr, I'm going to look out for your next book.

cavylover Sun 27-Apr-14 20:20:35

Brave and honest autobiography without self pity of a boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s . He made a success of his life despite the many setbacks he had. What I noticed particularly about the book were the many references to popular culture at the time like the TV programmes Hart to Hart and Dynasty and the film Dirty Dancing and the schoolyard games which brought the story to life painting a vivid picture of the era. Reference is also made to the political situation at the time and what Margaret Thatcher and the government were doing which runs parallel to the story, hence the title. A very entertaining read - thank you!

Mine arrived yesterday, thanks so much. Also, if anyone is a Times+ member, he is doing an event about the book on May 13th. I have just booked tickets, sounds fascinating. Right, better get reading.

Southeastdweller Thu 24-Apr-14 08:20:55

Thanks very much for my copy. Starting it today.

aristocat Tue 22-Apr-14 14:30:39

My book has arrived today smile I cannot wait to get started, and I am so pleased that you liked it AP ::waves to fellow book-lover::

BiscuitCrumb Wed 16-Apr-14 17:12:55

Yay I've been selected. Really looking forward to reading this when it arrives!

I've just realised how much of a weirdy stalker I sound in my last post blush. I'm not - honest. It resonated with me as a '70s child growing up in the west of Scotland.

AliceMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Apr-14 10:38:54

The book giveaway for Maggie & Me is now closed. We will inform those who have been selected to receive a free copy via email. Please feel free to discuss the book throughout the month on this thread.

AliceMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 09-Apr-14 10:39:38

Sorry again for the problems with our giveaway yesterday. For those who have posted on this thread, you can now enter our giveaway by applying on our book of the month page.

I just submitted it successfully - thanks for sorting it, fingers crossed!

Southeastdweller Tue 08-Apr-14 20:48:42

Now it won't let me submit my filled in form - anyone else found this?

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 08-Apr-14 20:48:08

Form now working. Sorry for slowness on sorting #Notagoodday. AgentProvocateur if there's a good response to this we'll see if we can persuade Mr Barr to join us for a webchat. Apply now and good luck.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now