|THE NEW REVIEW|
Interview by Lee Randall about the book on the Scotsman website
I love Laura Hird’s writing: her imagination, her fascination with the bizarre and the grotesque, her brilliant use of dialogue, and her vast array of characters that span both age and gender lines. In her latest publication from Canongate Books, ‘Dear Laura: Letters from a Mother to her Daughter’, Hird has given readers the greatest character of all—her mother—and, in turn, has repaid a debt of the heart.
‘Dear Laura’ is a collection of letters written by Hird’s mother, June Hird, covering over a decade of Laura’s life from her first trip away from Scotland to study English Literature in London, to her return to Edinburgh where she embarked on her career as the writer we now know, to the death of both of her parents. In the age of cyberspace, these letters come as a revelation, mainly because with the advent of email, MSN Messenger, MySpace, and YouTube, the art of letter writing has virtually disappeared. Furthermore, these letters provide an entrance into the intimate world of a profound mother-daughter relationship as well as into the personal world of Laura Hird, one of our most important contemporary voices.
The letters included in ‘Dear Laura’ run the gamut from motherly advice, quotidian matters such as the price of postage to return clothing that may or may not fit, to ruminations on literature, music, culture, travel, and, above all, relationships. June Hird comes across as a woman of great charm, wisdom, and talent. Her prose is wonderfully accessible, replete with humour, irony, sarcasm and wit. June Hird is also a nag, in the best sense of the word. She is sometimes threatening, often cajoling, but always encouraging as she advises her daughter on everything from her studies, jobs, men, food and even drink. Above all, she displays an unwavering faith in Laura’s talent as a writer and, more importantly, her worth as a person and as a loving daughter. Even in her darkest hours after her first cardiac operation, the death of her husband, and her final illness, her spirit and faith in life shines as an inspiration for her daughter. June Hird demanded much as a mother; in fact, she demanded the best out of her daughter and the people around her, but she gave even more through her unequivocal love, support, and passion for life.
June Hird’s wicked sense of humour is in evidence when she writes Laura (who is studying in London) about how she (Laura) is “Mastermind material” specializing in subjects like “Charles Bukowski, Woody Allen, or Dennis Nilsen.” June Hird was also a reader, and her love of books and literature is apparent from her descriptions of finding “gems” at second hand book stalls to telling her daughter how much she loves her by citing Yeats’ lovely poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”. The lines: “But I being poor, have only my dreams” resonate especially, because the story of the Hird family is one of financial hardship, struggles, and sacrifice. June Hird takes in borders, scrimps and saves, to make her daughter’s dreams possible, asking only for her love in return. In fact, reading these letters is also an inspiration to those who realize the truth that the greatest wealth is not in material things, but in things of the heart.
What comes across in these letters and in Laura’s editorial comments on their context are two things: first and foremost, June Hird’s unquestioning love for her daughter and her desire to do anything to promote her happiness and welfare, and, no less important, her wisdom in writing about the complexity of the relationships with those we truly love. June Hird wants everything for her daughter, yet she also wants to hold on to her and to protect her from the world. However, she is wise enough to know that she can do neither, and it is this ultimate great sacrifice to let her daughter be herself that is her greatest legacy. In turn, June Hird’s words provide a profound insight into parenthood and all of its ecstasies and heartbreaks that anyone who has a child will immediately recognize. There is great wisdom in her words.
Finally, reading ‘Dear Laura’ gives the reader insight into Laura Hird, person, daughter, and writer. Hird’s open depiction of her guilt about the death of her father, followed by the terrible pain of losing her beloved mother not long after, is a testament to her honesty. She openly admits her jealousy of her mother’s friends as her mother spends her last months in a hospice; at the same time, her denial of her mother’s dying, and her pain at discovering her mother’s last letter to her is both poignant and heart wrenching. However, Laura’s own letter to her Mum after her death at the end of the book is a loving, dignified, and brilliant response that shows Hird’s wisdom and maturity in coming to terms with the life lessons that her mother has taught her. By Hird’s own admission, her mother had a way of drifting “seamlessly between sentimentality, dry wit, romanticism, a wee bit manipulation…lovely silliness, heartbreak and compassion.” These letters are all of these things but so much more.
Read ‘Dear Laura’. This book will astonish you and also break your heart. You will remember it long after as a testament of the spirit, of love, and of the abiding faith a parent can have in her child. This is a book to be cherished and read years after. As Laura writes in her letter to her Mum after she has discovered some old photos after her death: “ (it) WILL HAUNT YOU.”
Reproduced with permission
Zsolt Alapi was born in Budapest, Hungary and grew up in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, where he now lives. He is the former editor of the little magazine, Atropos, (winner of the Pushcart Prize) and has published poetry and fiction in various magazines in Canada, the U.S. and Britain, most recently in Front and Centre. He recently published a chapbook of stories, ‘Three Stories,’ (Mercutio Press, Montreal, Quebec, 2004). Zsolt teaches at Marianopolis College and Concordia University and has completed a Ph.D. at McGill University (Montreal) on Robert Creeley and Postmodern Poetics. He also edited a collection of poetry and short fiction, ‘Vistas’ and has written on the poetry of Pound, Williams, and Olson. To read a selection of Zsolt’s fiction on the showcase section of this site, click here.
|DEAR LAURA: Letters from a Mother to Her Daugher
by June & Laura Hird
(Canongate Books 2007)
Reviewed by Zsolt Alapi
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