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Pickle Me This

November 19, 2007

Love Falls by Esther Freud

Though I have always enjoyed Esther Freud’s novels, I must admit that until her latest Love Falls I have never found them altogether satisfying. The writing is lovely, the description mesmerizing, the realism shockingly embedded in the romance, but for me the adolescent point of view of a book like Hideous Kinky left something to be desired. I love Freud’s Englishness, whether abroad or at home as in Peerless Flats or The Sea House, but the latter– her previous novel– faltered in its vividness.

Whereas with Love Falls, Freud appears to have assumed a brand new confidence. She is back in familiar territory– touches of travelogue, the young English girl abroad, this time in Tuscany– but in the creation of this particular girl, Freud has found her strength. Perhaps because Lara Riley is just old enough, but still not yet altogether. On a cusp: she looks into a wishing well, and dares to wish for her whole life.

During the summer of her seventeenth year, in 1981 as Britain is absorbed by the Royal Wedding, Lara embarks upon a journey to Italy with the father Lambert. As he had left her free-spirited mother when Lara was young and she has only even known him peripherally, Lara envisages the trip as a bonding experience, and she is disappointed when reality proves otherwise. Lambert, a writer, remains as consumed with his work as ever, and their host, his friend Caroline, Lara finds forbidding. She begins to take more of an interest in their neighbours the Willoughbys, impressed by their exoticism, wickedness and sophistication, and drawn in by her increasing attraction to Kip, their teenage son.

In the UK Love Falls was published this July, and how I wish it could have been a summer book here too– its heat is palpable. I adore the cover art, which seems a perfect depiction of the vividness Freud truly achieves. The stirring water too hints at dark undertones which she never shies away from. Lara’s coming of age is no cliche, and the novel’s disturbing climax fits perfectly within Freud’s context. Within the context of teenageness in general too: how much you get away with when you’re that young, if you’re lucky, and how far one can go without consequences (which is often frighteningly far).

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