Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North


by Willie Orr, ThunderPoint Publishing (2019)

A Review by Cynthia Rogerson

This is a story of survival despite horrendous hardship.  Well into the 1950’s in Scotland, children were removed from family homes deemed to be unsafe, and parents forced to sign agreements allowing their children to be sent anywhere in the world. Parents - some of whom were simply on hard times - lost the right to protect their children or to be in contact with them.  Loving their children was not sufficient to give them rights. For some children, this led to situations of exploitation and abuse in foster care.   Mick was such a child.  

At times this book is difficult to read, but at no time do the descriptions of abuse feel gratuitous or melodramatic. Orr writes with the needed degree of both detachment and compassion.  There are many reasons to feel sorry for the main character, but nothing in Orr’s depiction asks for pity, just respect and understanding.
Orr is primarily a non-fiction writer specialising in Scottish subjects, and he brings some of that sense of authority to Mick  in the character of George, the Child Protection Officer.  Roughly every other chapter is in third person, from George’s point of view.  We learn about Mick’s circumstances through George, mostly things Mick himself may not be aware of, and which in any case do not concern him enough to be a natural part of his direct narration to us.  In contrast to the calm coherence of the George sections, Mick’s chapters are a torrent of prose from an excited – often frightened, always  determined -  boy  struggling to keep his head above chaos.  His dialect is authentic Glaswegian, naturally written yet always comprehensible. The most upsetting abuses are reported in an appropriately deadpan voice, for that is what a psyche does to protect itself – withdraws and detaches.  
Orr is from Ireland, and while he’s been settled in Scotland far longer than he lived in Ireland, perhaps there’s still something fundamentally Irish about his writing. The dialogue and Mick’s monologues are nuanced, lyrical, every word effortlessly working to bring the scenes to life. And my goodness, the ending is well worth the reading.