Stylistically, Barr is a capable writer, if prone to lapses. Writing of the iconic Caledonian snack the Tunnocks Teacake, he mentions two different women using their nails to “crack the chocolate dome” without harming the mallow beneath twice in the space of a few chapters, which suggests either that he’s inordinately pleased with this image or that the book could have done with a keener edit. The ghastliness is somewhat unrelenting, as is the casual violence. Usually. Expressed. In. Staccato. Sentences. Like. This. Ultimately, what’s most deflating about the book is the transparent fraudulence of the whole Maggie angle. Mrs T is not so much shoehorned in as cheaply welded on in the form of a brief quotation at the beginning of each chapter and a hasty, muddled eulogy at the end. In Barr’s drama, Maggie doesn’t even have a bit part. She’s a voice-off. Very, very far off.
The death of Margaret Thatcher has put wind in the sails of Maggie and Me, but Damian Barr's memoir would have managed perfectly well on its own. This memoir of deprivation and survival is shrewdly constructed and written with a winning dry humour... The temptation to go for a big finish and a direct statement squanders a lot of the subtlety that precedes it. To claim Thatcher in a one-line paragraph as "My other mother" is a hollow shock effect. As his first mother paid him less and less attention as time went on, and delivered him up unwittingly to abuse, there should be some irony clinging to Thatcher as her deputy, but it's hard to spot.
Barr displays an endearingly dry wit, and throughout his trials and tribulations he never fails to see the funny side of even the most appalling situations. His father’s new girlfriend, a Dolly Parton wannabe, is known as Mary the Canary, while his favourite school teacher who sports a pudding bowl haircut is known as Rayson the Basin. Barr himself does not evade nick-names and at school, thanks to the casual cruelty of children, is called Gaymian, Dame Barr and Barbie. He tries to keep his head down and vows to do what the helmet-haired Maggie exhorts; work hard and escape to a better life... Barr is a gifted storyteller, weaving skilfully back and forth through time, and his unfussy prose flows delightfully...Most of all, what shines through Barr’s splendid memoir is his unswerving love and loyalty to those he holds dear, including his loving but neglectful mother, his adored little sister, his close friend Mark, and his faithful “girlfriend” Heather.