A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I don’t remember exactly where and how, but I read an extract of this novel before it was released, and immediately put it on my must-read list. Now that I finally read the whole thing, Lucky Break did not disappoint. The novel follows a group of British actors from 1992 to 2006, beyond their years at drama school, as their careers take them in different directions. The main characters include . . . hang on, I think I’ll quote the neat summary on the back of my paperback: ‘Nell, insecure and dumpy, wonders if she will ever be cast as anything other than the maid. She’ll never compete, she knows this, with the multitude of confident, long-legged beauties thronging the profession – most notably Charlie, whose effortless ascendance is nothing less than she expects. While Dan, ambitious and serious, has his sights fixed on Hamlet, as well as on fiery, rebellious Jemma.’
That’s the beginning in a nutshell – but there’s so much more . . .
Of the characters, I – like most readers, I’d wager – much preferred Nell, who was the most relatable with her appealing combination of insecurity and determination. She constantly doubts her ability to succeeds as an actress, but never loses the will to become one. But as the story progresses, a similar combination is increasingly revealed in the other main characters as well: in Dan despite his aloofness, and in Charlie despite all her extroverted confidence.
The writing itself is lucid and effortless, but the narrative style isn’t for everyone, I think. It’s fragmented and impressionist, but not a stream of consciousness. This will sound like a half-hearted description, but I struggle to come up with a better one: Freud’s style is unique in a very subtle way. Nothing about it screams ‘I’m special’ – taken individually, its elements are unobtrusive – but as a whole the book is very much its own thing, quite unlike any other book I’ve read. For literary fiction, it lacks any self-conscious ‘literariness’. Despite its fragmentary nature, it isn’t experimental in a gimmicky way. It simply meanders the way real life would, and comes close to being a clear window into the lives and souls of these fictional people. Quite often I honestly forgot I was reading a book: I felt as though I were looking into it.
Freud has a strong grasp on time and place. The ’90s feel like the ’90s, and the ’00s feel like the ’00s, though the differences are obviously subtle. The changes that take place feel like the changes in one’s memory when one looks back: time periods flow into each other, but they’re still noticeably different. What I liked was that Lucky Break wasn’t merely the story of these young actors as individuals, but also of them collectively, as a group with a dynamic of their own, and as creatures of their era.
I read about Esther Freud after finishing this book, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that she’s an actress herself, and married to the actor David Morrissey. She makes plenty of keen-eyed and humorous observations about actors and acting (and casting, and directing, and…), and there are several overtly humorous scenes where the book seems to be heading towards comedy – and then holds back again. It feels like there’s a sharp comic novel lurking inside this life-like, often even wistful narrative about interconnected lives; though I suppose that’s what life ultimately is. However, even the sharpest touches never come across as bitterness. Last week I wrote that Balzac comes across as very forgiving to me, and I felt the same way about Freud’s writing.
I struggle to pick any quotations that would adequately explain why I found this book so enjoyable and brilliant, as the brilliance is in the sum of its parts. Even the bits that made me laugh out loud don’t seem all that funny out of context. Lucky Break, even more than most novels, is the kind of book you either ‘get’ or you don’t: read the first couple of chapters about the young would-be actors as they enter drama school, and if they don’t grab you, the chances are the rest of the novel won’t, either. To me, this was a great book by an author who seems to understand life the way I understand it myself, and I will definitely be reading the rest of her works.
Bloomsbury, paperback, 320 pp. ISBN: 9781408805824