I could not be more excited about the fact that Esther Freud has a new book out this week, and that I am going to go to City Books to buy a copy each for my sister and me today. Apparently ‘Lucky Break’ is – even more tantalisingly joyous – loosely based on her days at drama school in the 80s, before she became a novelist.
Now, Freud writes those sorts of books that I love but am entirely aware drive a lot of people absolutely bloody mental. They are elegant, slim little tomes where (by and large) hardly anything ever happens. However, not in that wordy and ponderous roundabout way that, say, Ian McEwan (who seems to drive a lot of people even more bonkers, and whom I love nearly as much) has, but rather a sparse, impressionistic style where not a single word is superfluous or out of place. Something to which to aspire.
The first one I ever read – like, I suspect, most – was her debut, ‘Hideous Kinky’. It left me with a fascination for child narrators, a still-unrealised yen to visit Morocco, and a slight dislike for the Kate Winslet film version. An absolute joy, whilst at the same time an early example of how Freud makes slightly shocking events and details all the more so, by downplaying them entirely and exorcising any histrionics or judgements from the scene.
However, my favourite is her second novel ‘Peerless Flats’, which ranks among my Favourite Books Of All Time. This really is the one where the very least happens, which is probably why I love it so much – Hideous Kinky has its exotic location, The Wild has a shooting, at least, but Peerless Flats is basically about being a bit bored and out-of-sorts in a high-rise council flat. Lisa is a lovely character, her sister Ruby is romantically fascinating, and her little brother Max, with his obsession with foxes (“are you a fox? Naughty fox!”) is a delight. I don’t have much call to be in that part of London very often, but every time I get off a train at Old Street, I look out for Peerless Flats.
‘The Wild’ is nearly tied for a place in the top-favourites list – it’s the darkest of her novels, and has another child narrator who breaks your heart a little, in a good way. ‘Gaglow’ is a lovely, gentle read (although with the lurking sense of harsh reality that’s there in all of these), and a real treat for fans of Lucian Freud – I love how she doesn’t really pretend that it’s entirely fiction, for the sake of ‘art’ or ‘seriousness’; it just is. Again, ‘Love Falls’ features a Lucian-like father and if, like me, you’re a sucker for girl-coming-of-age tales, preferably set over a hot summer (see: ‘Stealing Beauty’, ‘Bonjour Tristesse’, &c.), then you’ll be in love, too.
The only one I haven’t mentioned here is ‘The Sea House’, which is not to say that it’s any less wonderful than the others. It’s just the one that I re-read the least, for some reason, and enjoyed and admired without feeling quite the same passionate connection. That’s just me, though – I still highly recommend it.
More on ‘Lucky Break’, I imagine, when I’ve read it. I actually cannot wait.
Finally, yet another reason why I love Esther Freud – we share the same first initial, and I also own this exact cup: