Friday, 15 November 2019

Lowborn by Kerry Hudson

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“Shall we start with a happy ending? I made it. I rose. I escaped poverty. I escaped bad food because that’s all you can afford. I escaped threadbare clothes and too-tight shoes. I escaped drinking and drugging myself into oblivion because ... because.”

Reading Kerry Hudson’s memoir, Lowborn, straight after Candice Carty-Williams’s novel, Queenie was fascinating and troubling. Hudson’s story doesn’t have the dimensions of race and immigration, but in so many other ways, the parallels are clear. Poverty. Deprivation. Toxic masculinity. Generational Trauma. Deeply damaged women not recognising that they are passing on the same hurts to their daughters and granddaughters. And the consequences for those daughters: night traumas, panic attacks and self esteem that remains desperately fragile even when you have far, far exceeded the low expectations you were set as a child.

The books is, as the author says, “the outcome of questions that still disturb my peace.” It is a journey through all the places – from Aberdeen to Great Yarmouth – where she spent her childhood. Part memoir, part assessment of how things have changed – for better or for worse – for young people growing up in those towns.

It is also a raging protest against all those who have spent the last few years demonising the poor – calling them lazy, work-shy, scroungers. True poverty, she says, is “all-encompassing, grinding, brutal and often dehumanising.”

She describes the hyper-vigilance of a child constantly in foreign environments with strange people. The impact of being constantly told not to utter a word about what was happening in your childhood – your body seizing up, your mouth refusing to form words. “The words I heard spoken to me in my first twenty years are tattooed everywhere under my skin.”

For those of us who grew up in a different kind of world, it can seem as if Hudson is speaking from another planet, such is the divide that has been created and sustained in our society. And recent government policy has done little to improve things and much to make them far, far worse.

A necessary reality check and an antidote to the distorted portrayals of poverty in programmes such as Benefits Street.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Queenie by Candice Carty-Willams, Natives by Akala, Stopping Places by Damian le Bas, Common People (ed Kit de Waal)

Avoid If You Dislike: Being reminded what a desperately unequal society we live in

Perfect Accompaniment: An Aberdeen smokie (smoked kipper)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

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