For a teenage boy living on the
coast of England in 1914, change is everywhere. Freud’s (Lucky Break, 2011, etc.) evocative new
novel intermingles the dawning consciousness of an imaginative, creative child,
who meets a real artist, with the irreversible alteration brought to a small
community by the start of World War I.
The Suffolk coastal landscape—its history, weather, natural fabric and ever shifting aspects—suffuses Freud’s delicately detailed chronicle of village life, in which sailing, fishing, shipwrecks and beachcombing are the stuff of local existence. Tom Maggs, 13 and born with a twisted foot, knows the terrain like the back of his hand and roams it freely. Tom has a taste for drawing, which is how he first encounters the dark figure of Mac, aka Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the noted Scottish architect and painter who, with his wife, also a renowned artist, is living locally, recuperating from illness after a career dive. Tom’s father, an alcoholic, terrorizes his family while the Mackintoshes’ loving companionship offers a different version of marriage. The couple also encourages Tom’s sketching, and he becomes their mail boy, delivering their letters to the post office, after steaming them open to read the contents. Once war begins, soldiers constantly come and go, the town and beaches are fortified against invasion, and Zeppelins fly overhead, dropping bombs. Tom and those around him are increasingly affected by the new laws, the distant fighting, and the national mood of fear and suspicion. When crises arrive, they propel the boy forward into an unimaginable future in which he will always cherish the love and artistic devotion he witnessed during that shattering year.
A touching coming-of-age story, powerfully but gracefully infused with a spirit of place, which also pays tribute to a revered artist.