Mr Mac and Me
I had the great pleasure of hearing author Esther Freud speak about her book Mr Mac and Me during the 2015 Adelaide Writers’ Week. This literary festival offers attendees the opportunity to sit under the shady trees at the edge of the Torrens River, in the heart of the city and be surprised, delighted and entertained for free. When I stumbled upon Esther Freud I was captivated by her warmth and the affection with which she described her 2014 novel, Mr Mac and Me. Freud has had success in the literary world and is most well-known for her first novel Hideous Kinky, which was later turned into a film starring Kate Winslet. She is also the daughter of the artist Lucian Freud and the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud.
In Mr Mac and Me the reader learns of the woes of architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh, at the time when he found himself somewhat “washed up” on the Suffolk Coast. Mackintosh is at a low point in his career, financially depleted and licking his wounded ego. He and his Scottish wife retreat to the anonymity of the small coastal town to save money and draw the local flora for some long-anticipated commissions and sales. It is however 1914 and World War I is dawning. Mackintosh is frequently sighted wandering the dunes and the coastal strip at odd hours. He is often toting binoculars (which become a banned item) and he arouses the suspicion of the locals who suspiciously jump to the conclusion that he may in fact be a German spy. (This part of the novel is true, however this is where fiction takes over from fact). Mac as the locals call him, also captures the attention of young Thomas Maggs, the local publicans son. Like the locals, Maggs is attracted to Mac’s enigmatic behaviour, his Sherlock Holmes type appearance (heavy cape, spy glass and eternally puffing on a pipe) and an unusual friendship blooms between them.
This is a gentle novel about friendship, loss, war, trust and it takes the reader back to a rather innocent time when townsfolk and community existed, hard-work and craftsmanship were valued and quality of life was just about to take a major loss.