It is 1914, and Thomas Maggs, son of the local publican, lives with his parents and sister in a village on the Suffolk coast. He is the youngest child, and the only son surviving. Life is quiet--shaped by the seasons, fishing and farming, the summer visitors, and the girls who come from the Highlands every year to gut and pack the herring.Read more...
It is 1914, and Thomas Maggs, son of the local publican, lives with his parents and sister in a village on the Suffolk coast. He is the youngest child, and the only son surviving. Life is quiet--shaped by the seasons, fishing and farming, the summer visitors, and the girls who come from the Highlands every year to gut and pack the herring.
Then one day a mysterious Scotsman arrives. To Thomas he looks like a detective in his black cape and felted wool hat, puffing on his pipe like Sherlock Holmes. Mac is what the locals call him when they whisper about him. And whisper they do, for he sets off on his walks at unlikely hours and stops to examine the humblest flowers. He is seen on the beach, staring out across the waves as if he's searching for clues. But Mac isn't a detective, he's the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and together with his artist wife, they soon become a source of fascination and wonder to Thomas.
Yet just as Thomas and Mac's friendship begins to blossom, war with Germany is declared. The summer guests flee and are replaced by regiments of soldiers, and as the brutality of war weighs increasingly heavily on this coastal community, they become more suspicious of Mac and his curious ways.
In this story of an unlikely friendship, Esther Freud paints a vivid portrait of the home front during World War I, and of a man who was one of the most brilliant and misunderstood artists of his generation.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-10-20
- Reviewer: Staff
Freud (Hideous Kinky) adds her voice to the chorus marking the centenary of WWI with this novel inspired by an incident in the life of Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It’s 1914 when Thomas Maggs, a 12-year-old boy growing up in a small fishing village in Suffolk, befriends Mr. Mac, a newcomer, and his artist wife, Margaret. At first, Mr. Mac and his odd ways, such as painting the indigenous flowers, make him a prime source of speculation to the locals, who soon have other things on their minds as war is declared. Village boys go off to fight, soldiers are billeted in the village, and German zeppelins fly overhead on the way to bomb London. Because of German writing found in his letters, Mr. Mac is accused of being an enemy spy. But Thomas finds that the truth is quite different. The war informs every aspect of life in the fishing village, despite its distance from the battlefield, and Freud does an excellent job of describing its circadian rhythms with the incisive depth of a John Cowper Powys. But when it comes to drama, her novel is a little on the anemic side, as there isn’t much of a mystery behind Mr. Mac’s letter writing. In the end, what this novel does best is introduce the reader to the life of an unsung hero of architecture. (Jan.)