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I Couldn’t Love You More by Esther Freud

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Literary Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

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I Couldn’t Love You More by Esther Freud is published with Bloomsbury and is described as ‘an unforgettable novel of mothers and daughters, wives and muses, secrets and outright lies’. It’s a book that I knew would have an impact on me, as a large part of the story is set in Cork, highlighting the harrowing plight of unmarried mothers in Ireland, including the now renowned mother and baby home at Bessborough in Cork City. Esther Freud was very much inspired by her own personal experience as her mother was born into a Catholic Irish family having spent many years in boarding schools, including Cork, before heading for the bright lights of London as a young girl. There she met Lucian Freud and had two children. Following a break-up of her relationship, she set sail for Morocco. Esther Freud and her sister only met her Irish grandparents years later and were given a welcome into their Co. Cork home, spending many happy holidays there on the farm over the years. But Esther Freud always wondered what would have happened had her mother remained in Ireland, unmarried and pregnant. Would a mother and baby home have been the only choice? I Couldn’t Love You More was the blank canvas that allowed Esther Freud to create a different future for a young girl who did find herself in a very harrowing situation.

I Couldn’t Love You More spans three generations interweaving the stories of three women, Aoife, Rosaleen and Kate.

Aoife is sitting with her husband, Cashel, by his bedside as he slowly slips away. She talks to him continuously of their years together, both the good and the bad but for Aoife there is one very important piece to the jigsaw of their lives that she has never been able to find. She is hoping for peace and finality in these last few days with her husband, hoping that her questions will somehow be answered. She recalls how she met Cashel in the 1930s and how, eventually, they returned to Co Cork, settling on a farm near the seaside town of Youghal. She reminisces over the days when their family unit was impenetrable and how in later years it shattered around them. Aoife finally needs to know the truth but can she get the closure she so craves?

Rosaleen, a young girl exuberant with the excitement of youth, fell in love with a man who would change the course of her life forever. When her parents made a decision to return to Ireland from the UK, Rosaleen never settled and, as soon as her education was completed, she returned to London and back into the arms of Felix Lichtman. He was a passionate sculptor and his ardour for Rosaleen expanded her mind. She was very much in love with Felix and believed that he felt the same way too. But, unexpectedly, Rosaleen found herself alone. Born and reared a Catholic, Rosaleen confided in the parish priest and was soon on a boat to Cork where a heart-breaking decision was made.

Kate is caught up in a very fractured marriage. Her husband is an alcoholic but will not admit it and Kate is struggling. She is constantly on edge trying to keep her young daughter away from the behaviour of her father when he reaches for another can of beer or crashes through the front door at some late hour. Kate knows that there is a mystery surrounding her very early years and now, with her personal life imploding, she decides the time has come to make some changes and to finally unlock the secrets of her past.

Esther Freud delves into a part of Irish history that is both shameful and very disturbing. Young girls were treated inhumanely, with the number of lives shattered incomprehensible to most of us today. Aoife, Rosaleen and Kate are three strong women, all having experienced very tough challenges, but remaining courageous throughout. Their stories are beautifully told with a method of writing that is quite unique. Moving between the characters does need a little focus at the beginning but after a bit it is very easy to get into the flow of Esther Freud’s style.

I Couldn’t Love You More is a very emotional and affecting read. Esther Freud has written a story that is both beautiful and shocking, a captivating tale of secrets and lies, of passion and regrets. A truly thought-provoking novel.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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