I’m not sure that in normal circumstances I would have picked up Maggie and Me by Damian Barr.
But what do I mean ‘normal circumstances’? I think I mean ‘of my own volition’. I have to confess that much of my book buying I now done online (yes, I own a kindle, and I LOVE it). There is less of that happy bookshop browsing time in my life, although I must confess to an impulse purchase of Jackie Kay‘s ‘Fiere’ when I took the scenic route via Looking Glass Books back to my office the other week.
So, what I am saying is that if I’d happened upon Maggie and Me in a bookshop I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance.
But luck is on my side. I worked for several years at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (@edbookfest) which wasn’t just the loveliest team in the world, it was also a brilliant provider and recommender of good reading material. Of course. And, although I no longer work there, their Associate Director (@RolandGulliver) is my daily commuting buddy. And one of his many talents is his skill in recommending books. It helps that we both adore Niccolo Amaniti (and are both disappointed in his latest novel).
So, Roland recommended I read Maggie and Me. In fact he issued it as homework when I took week off.
Reading is a slightly different experience with a kindle, as opposed to a physical book with papery pages. For a start you probably won’t have turned it over and read the back, or the inside back cover about the author. You won’t see a picture of the cover every time you pick up the book to read it. So, in effect, all you can go on are the words on the ‘page’. This should be a good thing. And often it is. But it also means that I regularly can’t remember the name of the book or the author I am currently reading.
I remembered Maggie and Me. And Damian Barr. Probably because the book references Margaret Thatcher (the Maggie of Maggie and Me) so regularly, and vividly (opening with the writer’s memory of the night of the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing by the IRA, and Maggie walking out un-harmed, apparently un-fazed). And Damian? Why do I remember his name? Perhaps because he is called names at school, or perhaps just because I tried to remember his name so that I could lookout for more of his writing. Yes, it’s that good.
In Maggie and Me, Damian recreates Scotland in the 80s; it is the era of Thatcher, of her power, but also of the very real hatred of her in many homes in Scotland. Damian’s father works at ‘the Craig’ (Ravenscraig) which is threatened with closure. Wee Damian is convinced that Maggie won’t allow this to happen, but we all know the outcome – there would be no more second sunsets. His parents have separated by this time and Damian is living in the roughest and most violent flat in a rough and violent estate. He finds solace at the Carfin grotto, which says it all about the writer’s ability to find humour in what was an appallingly difficult childhood.
I laughed out loud. I cried. But I didn’t want this book to end. Go buy it. Go buy tickets to see Damian Barr at a Book Festival, or just follow him on twitter – he deserves your attention.
Maggie and Me will certainly make it onto the ‘favourite books of the year’ list for 2013.