Maggie & Me by Damian Barr: April non-fiction choice
Damian Barr's best-selling memoir, Maggie & Me, starts in a small town in Lanarkshire, October 1984. Mrs Thatcher's escape from the IRA Brighton bomb dominates the TV news that eight-year-old Damian is watching, after his mother has left the marital home to live with her boyfriend Logan. He sees Maggie's dusty figure 'like a Cyberman from Dr Who'. From then on, Maggie is a shadow presence in his growing-up. Not a hate figure, nor an idol, but a catalyst to getting up and out of a difficult childhood: "Be strong, Maggie told us all. Get educated. Get away. That's what she said. I listened."
Barr's father works in heavy industry ("My dad is always minerals. The whites of his eyes and his smiling falsers sparkle out from the coal-black rest of him.") and his glam new girlfriend, Mary The Canary, tries to stop him seeing his children. Logan turns out to be a brutal abuser who inflicts constant violence on Damian. His mother finally leaves Logan, but turns to drink.
Despite this abysmal beginning, Damian manages to hold onto his hope of a different life, and also his sense of humour. No misery here: the abuse is handled with a deft irony ("And that's the last of my baby teeth") and his tales of growing up gay in a small town Scotland are witty and touching (he does a sponsored run dressed as Alexis Colby and even manages to fall in love whilst dancing to Madonna in Glasgow's only gay club).
The eighties pop culture and political references are subtly woven into the personal drama. Mumsnet webchatter Patrick Gale puts it best: "Imagine one of the sharper Mitford sisters cruelly reborn into the family from Shameless… Barr tells his engaging, sad-funny story of a camp, bright lad in dire circumstances in Thatcher-era Motherwell in such a beguilingly confiding, arm-linking style, that I felt I'd made a new best friend only to lose them to a world of glittering opportunities. Read this at once before someone films it, as they most surely will." An uplifting, courageous and riveting story told by a remarkable man. Damian, we salute you.
About the author
Damian Barr was born in 1976 in Lanarkshire. He is a writer, columnist, playwright and salonnière. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the faculty at The School of Life and host of the Literary Salon at Shoreditch House. He lives in Brighton, Sussex.
Follow Damian on Twitter @Damian_Bar
Photo credit ©JonathanKing
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