Friday, 12 December 2014

Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud

Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed some of Britain’s most endearing architecture of the early 1900s, but died in obscurity. He spent a short time in Suffolk as Britain entered the First World War, drawing and painting watercolours of the natural world around him. In Esther Freud’s new novel, Mr Mac and Me, we have the story of an imagined friendship between Mackintosh and thirteen-year-old Thomas Maggs, the son of a Suffolk publican.

The Maggs family have had their problems: a father who drinks and the deaths in infancy of Thomas’s six older brothers. But Thomas busily gets on with life, in spite of a club foot, dreaming of the sea and filling his schoolbooks with pictures of ships. His drawings attract the attention of Mackintosh and his wife, and Thomas does the couple odd jobs, while they feed him up and give him lessons in painting.

In the background, the war is shown through the eyes of a small Sussex town. Supposed to be over by Christmas, it has turned out to be more serious than ever imagined, with terrible casualties and loss of ships. The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) has the locals on the look-out for spies with worrying consequences.

Freud has captured brilliantly a time and place through the eyes of her young narrator in a way that brings it all to life. Thomas is wonderful company – full of energy and determination, but also sensitive and interesting. Mackintosh’s character is equally complex and the art of Charles and his wife vividly brought to the page.

Mr Mac and Me is a well-crafted and original novel, describing tumultuous events within the world of ordinary people. Recommended.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Mr Mac and Me

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