Book Review: Shop Girl by Mary Portas

9780857522863Young Mary Newton, born into a large Irish family in a small Watford semi, was always getting into trouble. When she wasn’t choking back fits of giggles at Holy Communion or eating Chappie dog food for a bet, she was accidentally setting fire to the local school. Mary was a trouble magnet. And, unlike her brothers, somehow she always got caught…

Britain in the 1970s was a world where R White’s lemonade was drunk in secret, curry came in a cardboard box marked Vesta and Beanz meant Heinz. In Mary’s family, money was scarce. Clothes were hand-me-downs, holidays a church day out to Hastings and meals were variations on the potato. But these were also good times which revolved around the force of nature that was Theresa, Mary’s mum.

When tragedy unexpectedly blows this world apart, a new chapter in Mary’s life opens up. She takes to the camp and glamour of Harrods window dressing like a duck to water, and Mary, Queen of Shops is born…

What I Thought:
I’ve watched Mary Portas’ TV shows for years and admired her ‘pull no punches’ attitude and her knack for turning around even the most hopeless enterprise but, after reading Shop Girl, I admire her all the more. Despite the push for diversity on TV, I feel secure in saying that a great number of the faces we see there are from a privileged background – not so with Mary, who is from a regular family and has not had an easy rise to fame and fortune.

Mary’s writing style lends her memories a really warm glow, and while her expeiences touch on the every day, they are never boring and are told with humour and genuine fondness. This makes it all the more tragic when you get to the part where her family experiences a great tragedy and there is nothing warm or funny to say – it was a great surprise to me and I found it genuinely moving, to the point of tears – no-one should have to ever go through that so young and the aftermath just adds more upset.

You can see though, from these experiences how Mary has become the no-nonsense person she appears to be, and has built herself up from nothing. Although never my favourite genre, I would recommend Shop Girl as an example of how an autobiography should be written – from the heart, rooted in the ordinary, and full of inspiration.

Mary Portas will be appearing at the Harrogate Literary Festival in July, and tickets will be available from tomorrow.

I was given an ARC of Shop Girl by Gullivers Books for review purposes.

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