Mr Mac and Me is Esther Freud’s eighth novel. Known for her semi-autobiographical Hideous Kinky, adapted for the screen starring Kate Winslet, Freud once again delves into the mind of a child.
Narrated by 12-year-old Thomas Maggs, Mr Mac and Me is set in Suffolk at the outbreak of the First World War. The easterly coast of Britain was thought to be one of the most dangerous parts of the country in 1914.
Thomas Maggs is the youngest and only surviving son of local publican William Maggs. He listens to the locals as they talk about a Scotsman who has recently arrived in Suffolk. When he first sees Charles Rennie Mackintosh he realises why everyone is talking about him.
“He looks for all the world like a detective. He’s wearing a great black cape and a hat of felted wool, and he is puffing on a pipe as if he’s Sherlock Holmes.”
Thomas notices the Scotsman has a limp not dissimilar from his own twisted foot and is drawn to him.
Artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh did live in the village of Walberswick in Surrey at this time. He overstayed his welcome and the village became suspicious of him. Freud has artfully weaved fact and fiction with the introduction of Thomas Maggs, allowing the Glaswegian artist, known to Thomas as Mac, to tell his story.
Mac was once a great architect – at the age of 27 he was revered as a genius but has since fallen on hard times. He allows Thomas respite from his abusive father and in turn reveals part of his life story while teaching Thomas about the art of observation. Having picked up on Thomas’s talent for drawing Mac shows him the world through his eyes.
Freud’s love of nature is imbued throughout this novel, the daughter of artist Lucian Freud and great-granddaughter of psychologist Sigmund Freud; she has an eye for detail as she vividly brings the environment to life.
It is not the first time Freud has written about the First World War. While telling Mac’s story she also presents him as a victim of wartime paranoia in a small coastal village.
Beautifully written, Mr Mac and Me is the story of unlikely friendship in the face of adversity.
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