Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Wild by Esther Freud

The Wild was a random charity shop purchase, picked up mainly because I was attracted to the vivid blue colour of the cover. Not the best reason for reading a book, but on this occasion it was worth it. It was a lovely little book. The Wild of the title is actually a converted bakery where where two families are trying to live together in a subsistence fashion as much as possible. They make and grow as much as their own food as possible, entertain themselves and try to adapt their property to fit their needs, all themselves. William owns the property and lives in it with his three children, and Francine rents two rooms from him, one for herself, and one for her two children Tess and Jake.

It has to be said though, it is about fifty pages in before all the pieces of this background are put together, and it becomes clear who is who, and who is related to who, and how the two adults are linked. Just in time for it all to change. Eventually William and Francine end up in a relationship, which puts even more pressure on the children to find their places in this new family. And then just to complicate matters further, they take in a lodger, a seventeen year old student who has been rescued from a religious commune. This is the point at which the delicately balanced harmony falls apart. We do however know that all does not end well, as there is quite a violent scene at the end of the book, which we then return to at the end of the story and are able to put this in context. In effect, the story is an explanation of the events that lead up to this scene, that we know all the way through is going to happen. It makes for a very foreboding read, as we can see the tense relationships sliding downhill.

Seen mainly through the eyes of Tess, the story is about the trials and pitfalls of trying to live in a blended family, although it has to be said that neither of the adults try very hard to understand what their children are thinking and feeling, or how they will react to situations. Tess and Jake have very different reactions towards William. Tess tries her hardest to please him and make him like her, which he fails to notice, whilst Jake is at best indifferent to him and becomes more and more obnoxious as the novel progresses, and although to say why would ruin the story, it is quite understandable, especially as he is the older child and can read between the lines a lot more than Tess. That these children are miserable, and struggling with how to adapt to this life is obvious, though they show it in different ways.

William I actually found to be quite an obnoxious character, who definitively seems to be focused on his own children and his own needs, putting them before anything else, even having favourites amongst his own children. I think he did have good intentions, but they were so obviously misplaced it was difficult to see how he couldn't understand how his actions were affecting all of the children. Francine seemed to try a it harder to understand her children and help out with what they were going through, but even she came across as a bit of a walkover at times, and submitted to William's wishes when perhaps she shouldn't. The end is quiet, but seems to be positive for at least one half of the family.

There was so much I liked about this book. I thought the insight into a blended family was well done, and perhaps how an obsession with living a life as much away from consumerism as possible can take over and actually have a detrimental effect. And seen through the eyes of a child, it was easy to see that however good intentions are, children can be miserable and it will show itself in the end, sometimes in a devastating fashion.


Paperback Reader said...

I discovered Esther Freud early last year (I read and reviewed Love Falls in May). I promptly added all of her other books to my wish-list and have acquired a couple since then although sadly not this one. I definitely want to read it now!

Jo said...

Yes, 'I want to read everything she's written' was my response on finishing this too! I will see which one I find next.

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