This is my first venture into Esther Freud’s work and, while melancholic, I couldn’t love you more is beautiful and incredibly moving.
It’s the story of three generations of women, linked through blood but kept apart by a patriarchal society and catholic values.
In the sixties, a teenage Rosaleen meets a famous sculptor, Felix Lichtman. They embark on an affair.
Trips to France, drinks in Soho; it’s a bohemian lifestyle that Rosaleen dreamt of while at Catholic boarding school. Her parents try to put an end to the affair but a head strong Rosaleen is determined to keep seeing Felix.
Before long, Rosaleen finds herself alone, homeless, jobless, and pregnant. Desperate, she turns to a local priest for help and finds herself in a mother and baby home in ran by nuns in Ireland.
In the nineties, Kate’s marriage is hanging by a thread. Her husband’s an alcoholic, she’s trying to raise her daughter Freya. She’s always questioned where she comes from and starts searching for her birth mother.
Aoife sits at her husband’s bedside as he lays dying and tells him the story of their lives together. What Aoife really wants to know is what happened to her beloved daughter Rosaleen? Why has any mention of her been banned, she misses her daughter and is desperate for answers before it’s too late.
This book is heart-breaking.
The chapters swap between Aoife, Rosaleen and Kate; I liked how it was structured I didn’t find it confusing even though it jumped between generations and timelines. All three women share their experiences and feelings, each of them struggling with their loss. Each of their stories are compelling, all are equally moving.
Rosaleen’s story is harrowing, her experiences in the mother and baby home are horrific.
Early in the novel, she has an air of confidence, she paints herself as being streetwise; the moment she finds herself with nowhere else to turn, her naivety becomes more and more apparent. Perhaps for the first time as a reader, we see her as a teenager in trouble who has no idea what’s in store for her and her unborn baby. Knowing what happened in the Magdalene laundries in the sixties and the historical facts behind Rosaleen’s story, makes it even more difficult to read.
Freud makes references to this part of Ireland’s history throughout. When Kate arrives at the convent, she comes face to face with small memorial to all the babies who lost their lives there and knows that she very easily could have been one of them.
Aoife is tortured by the loss of Rosaleen, she misses her daughter, she’s desperate to find her. She struggles with not being able to talk about her, she knows her husband knows the truth and has spent years pleading with him to tell her.
Each of the women are bound by duty. They all live under the constraints of what was expected of them at the time. Aoife – though a strong woman – is silenced by her husband, her life is shaped by that.
Rosaleen is punished for daring to lead the kind of life she wants to, in the eyes of her father, what she’s done is unforgivable. She breaks rules and lives with the consequences for the rest of her life and to an extent, Kate does too.
It is sad, it is not an easy read. I was sad for all things the characters had missed out on in each other’s lives. It deals with pain, hurt, rejection and perceived abandonment but there’s moments of hope too.
Mistakes and secrets may drive this novel, but this is a story about mothers and daughters, it’s about the love they share for each other, even when they are torn apart and that’s what makes this book beautiful, an incredible read.
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