Review: Born Free by Laura Hird

When Laura Hird published one of my stories on her website, I thought it was the least I could do to buy one of her books. I chose her novel, Born Free which is, according to the Guardian, a ‘remarkably courageous debut’.The obvious comparisons have been drawn, Laura Hird is Scottish – she writes about a working class family living Edinburgh. There are bloody noses, vomit, drink and drugs.

But judging from this novel, she’s no Irvine Welsh clone. Her writing is fresh, has depth, and it’s the characterization where she really hits the mark.

Book Cover

Her main characters tell the story of dysfunctional family life:

There’s Joni – desperate to lose her virginity before she turns 16.

Her brother Jake, bullied at school and taunted by his sister, finding solace in computer games and underwear adverts in women’s magazines.

His mother Angie, a recovering alcoholic on the brink of an affair with her heavy drinking boss at the bookie’s office.

Angie’s husband Vic, a bus driver stumbling through the day on a Prozac haze.

The story is populated with people we might come across in our daily lives, and manages to capture the essence of the generations, from teenager to grandparent, using a distinct voice for each character and easily pulling together a story that is told from 4 different points of view.

None of her characters are particularly likeable, with the possible exception of the weak-willed Vic, who’s at the centre, trying to keep everything together.

But as the story progresses, each character shows their vulnerability, and there’s a certain amount of empathy, even with Angie, who exhibits all the worst traits of an alcoholic decline.

It’s one of those books that you have to stay up late to finish, because you know you won’t sleep if you don’t know the ending.

If I had one criticism of the book, it’s that for me, though it was a satisfying finish that tied up all the loose ends, but left enough doubt to leave you thinking, I wasn’t convinced that it was quite in keeping with Vic’s character.

Find out more about Laura Hird and the hard work she puts into supporting new writers at The Danforth Review