Monday, May 17, 2010

teenage troubles in tuscany

Love Falls
Esther Freud
2007

Some time in the 1990s, I compiled a list of people from my birth year plus/minus one who had achieved something significant already. Don’t laugh, turning 30 can do this to your brain! One of my more famous contemporaries on that list (which also featured on the early editions of my website from summer 1997 onwards) was writer Esther Freud (daughter of painter Lucian Freud, and great-granddaughter of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, since you ask).

By that time, Freud had only published two novels, Hideous Kinky (1991) and Peerless Flats (1994), of which I read the latter – the former was soon after turned into the eponymous film featuring Kate Winslet, at which point Freud’s writing career seemed assured. Of her subsequent novels I greatly admired Gaglow (1997), which uses her German/British intercultural heritage to great effect, but didn’t quite know what to make of The sea house (2003).

With Love Falls she returns to the mind world of the teenage girl, which I suppose is what she does best. Of course I can’t really tell, as I don’t know it from the inside, but it looks convincing to the bystander. It is July 1981 (as readers are supposed to know due to the references to the wedding of Charles Windsor and Diana Spencer, but I had to look it up!), and our protagonist, Lara, 17 (born in spring 1964, she also qualifies for my list!), embarks on a trip to Italy with her father, which means she’s going to spend more time with him than she has in the past 17 years put together. That’s probably already true by the end of the epic train journey that takes them to Siena.

She is thrown into the strange world of wealthy British expats in Tuscany, which in fact feels quite similar to the world described in the Bertolucci movie Stealing Beauty, except that the rather likable heap of artists lounging round the pool in that movie is replaced with a not quite so sympathetic gang who are there to save their inherited wealth from the UK tax authorities.

Lara’s summer in Tuscany includes a wide and interesting range of experiences and emotions, and trying to make sense of them she reflects back to memories of her previous foreign adventure, an overland trip to India with her mother (which reminds us of the exotic flavours of Hideous Kinky although that one was set in Morocco).

Parts of the novel are disturbing enough to ensure it doesn’t end up on the “light summer reading” shelf, but still, the Tuscan sun does add to the reading pleasure, and teenage angst and confusion looks much more photogenic by the Love Falls (as in waterfalls) than in the dreary backyards of Peerless Flats, so I reckon for anybody who doesn’t know Freud’s work yet, Love Falls might be a good place to start.

PS: Other contemporaries on my list included writers Naomi Wolf and Federico Andahazi, actresses Juliette Binoche, Jane Horrocks and Jodie Foster, singer Tori Amos … actually, the list ist still online at my old website, untouched for nearly a decade.

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