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Freya/Anthony Quinn

I  discovered Anthony Quinn a few years ago when he wrote a first rate novel Half the Human Race about a depressed Edwardian cricketer. I very much enjoyed too Curtain Call a novel set between the wars in bohemian and theatrical London. At the heart of the novel is a relationship between society portraitist Stephen Wyles and famous actress Nina. I have reviewed this on the Rust.

freyaThus I was delighted that he moves onto the era from VE Day to the swinging sixties in Freya. Freya  is the daughter of Stephen Wyles and this time the central relationship is with Nancy who she meets on VE day. Freya, a headstrong, swearing but vulnerable person becomes a journalist after dropping out of Oxford to cover Nuremberg and Nancy becomes a novelist.

Quinn has a gift for setting social history against the more micro world of complex human relationships. He is particularly strong on the theatre and one of his best characters, who features in both novels, is the critic James Erskine, modelled on James Agate. This is one of the few critiques I would make, namely the use of real characters as fictional personalities. Ossian Brandler the painter is clearly Lucien Freud for  example. Jessica Vaux is the  famous journalist Martha Gellhorn. The second critique is that the plot line is rather thin. I will not do spoilers but I found the involvement of one character in a sex scandal pretty predictable, as was the ending.

The novel is quite similar to Sweet Caress by William Boyd. This too is a broad sweep of history featuring a female photographer. Boyd is funnier but I thought  his  central character less well drawn. No doubt there will be a third from 1960-80 and possibly even a fourth and fifth updating the various characters against a different backcloth.

I can see a Sunday tv drama here too. I would cast Gemma Arterton as Freya, Andrea Riseborough as Nancy, Jeremy Irons as Stephen Wyles, Alex Jennings the ambitious journalist and politician, and any of the three theatrical knights Sirs – Tom Courtenay, Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen – would be superb as James Erskine.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts