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Friday, 3 August 2012

Review: - Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud



When I'm at the library, I seek out Esther Freud's novels with a vengeance. For some reason I've added her onto my 'authors to be collected' mental list, and I'm not really sure why this is. Although I've had some good experiences with her fiction, the last book of hers that I read, The Wild, was one of the most 'meh' experiences I've had with a book for a while. I do still have a couple of her books on my TBR though, so I'll persevere!


I don't want to make it sound like I have totally written Freud off, because obviously I haven't, and actually there was a lot that I liked about her most well-known novel. Hideous Kinky has been sat on my shelf for literally years, and it's such a small book that I really have no excuse whatsoever for not having read it before, but anyway. Sometimes I get so familiar with a book staring at me accusingly that actually taking it off the shelf and reading it can seem like a bit of a travesty...


Hideous Kinky is told from the point of view of an unnamed five year old girl, and is the story of her life on the road in Morocco with her mother and her sister, Bea. As the novel begins, they have left England and are travelling towards Morocco in a van with a man named John and his wife Maretta, who doesn't speak and has some fairly serious psychological problems. The only words that the girls have ever heard her say are 'hideous' and 'kinky'.


I found that the narrator was what made this novel compelling for me. Because the viewpoint is such an unusual one, every event in the story is presented as a kind of adventure; even when they have no money and are eventually forced to beg on the streets, it comes across with a sense of excitement and wonder. Also the reason why they are in Morocco is never made clear. Obviously the mother and the girls' father aren't together, but it's never clear if they have left England because of that, or for other reasons. They are constantly waiting for their money to arrive, but where said money comes from is never explained. The book is pretty much full of slightly unexplained things, which makes it interesting to read. The naivety of the narrator is lovely as well - part way through she decides that her mother's current boyfriend, Bilal, must be her daddy, because nobody corrects her when she says so. 


A sense of mystery seems to be one of the defining characteristics of an Esther Freud novel. Sometimes it works better than others, and this was one of the better times. There was enough which was tangible to hang the story around, such as the narrator's relationship with her sister, Bea, which felt very real to me; full of awkwardness and fighting and private jokes. The narrator is constantly trying to grow up - her two major aims in life appear to be to go to school like Bea, and to look like a boy. Her most prized possessions are a pair of patched trousers, and when her hair turns orange through an unfortunate henna related incident, she revels in the fact that she can wear a hat and look even more boyish. 


My complaint about Hideous Kinky is that for me, it lacked drive. At the beginning of the novel, they are going to Morocco. During the novel, they travel around Morocco, not, seemingly, for any sort of reason, and while I know that there doesn't have to be a valid reason for escape, surely if you are taking small children with you there should be some kind of motivation? At the end of the novel, they return to England again, pretty much, it seemed to me, because the money has run out. I would have liked there to be a solid reason for them leaving in the first place, even if not one for returning so much, but I guess that's just me. 


With every Esther Freud book I read, I become less excited about reading her others. Hideous Kinky wasn't bad, and it certainly wasn't as passive as The Wild, but I was still a long way from loving it. 

3 comments:

  1. This has been sitting on my shelf looking accusingly at me for years too. I like the unusual perspective and the sense of wonder you mention, so I will try it eventually!

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  2. I remember really liking this when I read it, but I feel like I like the film more because EVERY time it's on tv (and it's always on late) I stay up and watch almost all of it and then end up regretting it! Although having said that, I'm not sure I've ever seen the end.. Hmm.

    I definitely can kind of remember what you mean about the lack of drive in the novel though- it's kind of like 'oh look, we're just floating and flooting around' but then I guess that's kind of the point, really...

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  3. This has been sitting on my shelves for SO LONG - and I'd quite like to see the movie at some point as well. I've never read Esther Freud before so I'm going in blind... maybe I'll take it on holiday with me (*coughs* that's about the hundredth time I've said those words about different books this week, oops)... it kinda sounds like a good little holiday book! :)

    P.S. Apologies for the most rambly rubbish comment ever, it's Saturday afternoon and it's been SO BUSY my brain's scrambled!

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