Title: Mr Mac and Me
Author: Esther Freud
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ)
Date of Publication: 11 September 2014
Number of Pages: 305
Rating: 3 stars [DNF 55%]
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Summary: It is 1914, and Thomas Maggs, the 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 down from the Highlands every year to gut and pack the herring.
Then one day a mysterious Scotsman arrives. To Thomas he looks for all the world like a detective, in his black cape and hat of felted wool, and the way he puffs on his pipe as if he’s Sherlock Holmes. Mac is what the locals call him when they whisper about him in the Inn. 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 red haired artist wife, they soon become a source of fascination and wonder to Thomas.
Review: Freud has a writing style which makes this book very readable. The story itself, however, is dry and unfortunately, quite dull. At 55% I found I could not find the energy to continue on of find the desire to know what happened in the end. The pace of the novel is, far too slow, plodding and repetitive. The voice of Tommy, the storyteller, no matter how convincing, isn’t enough to sustain an entire novel. Tommy doesn’t suffer from the false naivety that some young narrators do and that is a blessing.
There is a strange feeling of being disengaged from the characters – Mac is a ghostly figure, Mrs Mac has red hair, Tommy’s father is a drunk, his mother is overprotective but almost careless at the same time. There is an interesting teenage romance that peters out and a lot of discussion of what kind of ship is being sketched but that link and connection just doesn’t appear.
The slow pace of the text may be a device to indicate how life in a small village during war time carries on but this would have worked better from the perspective of an adult. This device fails and bogs down an otherwise decent story. I had been looking forward to reading this novel but feel disappointed overall.