Book Review: be guid tae yer mammy // Emma Grae

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Emma Grae’s be guid tae yer mammy is a charming tale of family and life in Scotland. We meet Jean, a feisty ninety-year-old who dreamed of being a film star, her daughter Stella Marie, who suffers with chronic illnesses and is bullied by her sisters, and her granddaughters Kate and Isla, who want to escape the small village where they grew up. After tension between Stella Marie and her older sisters reaches boiling point, Jean becomes distant from the family. Meanwhile, Kate, an aspiring screenwriter, uncovers her granny’s hidden secret: she was best friends with the actress Lizzie Black and was close to becoming a film star herself.

Grae’s decision to use multiple points of view in the novel is effective: it helps the reader to dive into the character’s minds and fully understand their personalities. With the exception of Cathy and Sandra, Stella Marie’s sisters, who set out to make her life a living hell, each character is unique, and we warm to them all. Even Jean, despite being a deeply bitter and cold woman, has a certain likability about her, and we truly feel sympathetic to her towards the end of the novel. However, Stella Marie’s faults needed to shine through more: she erred slightly on being a Mary-Sue. Although Jean describes her as “bone idle” and “a heavy cross tae bear”, these critiques felt unreliable due to her personal grievances with Stella Marie. Still, Grae has done an excellent job of showing her everyday struggles with her health conditions, and displaying the negative attitudes that those who have invisible illnesses face.

The characterisation of Isla is spot on. She is just as self-absorbed and naïve as you’d expect a typical teenage girl to be. One notable moment, where she complains when she is taken to the hospital where “Hot Dave” works, is humorous, while her fake Facebook profile to stalk her estranged family members feels strangely relatable.

Kate’s viewpoint is shared through her diary entries, which are the only chapters written in English rather than Scots. Hearing about her experiences of OCD—which weren’t centred around cleaning and organising—is refreshing and insightful. Despite Jean criticising her “Glasgow Uni accent”, there are plenty of Scottish idioms scattered throughout the novel, assimilating into the rest of the book. We root Kate, and it is amazing to watch her confidence grow over the course of the novel.

be guid tae yer mammy is a comforting read and nailed Scottish culture head-on. The run-down hall where the party takes place in the opening scenes brought back memories of attending similar functions, while Jean’s expressions were typical of a Scottish granny: “slower than a week in the jail” is one that springs to mind. It’s not all an ode to Scotland though: Grae also draws attention to the negative aspects of living in Scotland, such as the closure of high street shops, and the lack of opportunities for young people. Despite being somewhat predictable, the ending was poignant and emotional, but effectively tied up all the loose ends without relying on a perfect fairy-tale ending.

Grae’s writing style was a pleasure to read, providing beautiful descriptions that transported the reader immediately into the setting. While the plot was sometimes a little slow, particularly in the first half of the novel, the characters and setting were charming, which entices the reader to keep reading. Overall, be guid tae yer mammy is excellent, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in the future.

Words by Ellen Leslie

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