cover image Mr. Mac and Me

Mr. Mac and Me

Esther Freud. Bloomsbury, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62040-883-4

Freud (Hideous Kinky) adds her voice to the chorus marking the centenary of WWI with this novel inspired by an incident in the life of Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It’s 1914 when Thomas Maggs, a 12-year-old boy growing up in a small fishing village in Suffolk, befriends Mr. Mac, a newcomer, and his artist wife, Margaret. At first, Mr. Mac and his odd ways, such as painting the indigenous flowers, make him a prime source of speculation to the locals, who soon have other things on their minds as war is declared. Village boys go off to fight, soldiers are billeted in the village, and German zeppelins fly overhead on the way to bomb London. Because of German writing found in his letters, Mr. Mac is accused of being an enemy spy. But Thomas finds that the truth is quite different. The war informs every aspect of life in the fishing village, despite its distance from the battlefield, and Freud does an excellent job of describing its circadian rhythms with the incisive depth of a John Cowper Powys. But when it comes to drama, her novel is a little on the anemic side, as there isn’t much of a mystery behind Mr. Mac’s letter writing. In the end, what this novel does best is introduce the reader to the life of an unsung hero of architecture. [em](Jan.) [/em]