Freud has imagined the summer of 1914 for Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife through the eyes of Thomas Maggs, a thirteen-year old boy who lives on the Suffolk Coast. The artist couple takes a cottage in the small town, far from their busy, stressful lives in Glasgow.
The novel is told a first person memoir by Thomas. He recounts the daily drudgery of his life — his alcoholic father, his weary mother, his useless grammar school teacher, the futile tasks he does each day. But his outlook changes when an eccentric artist from Scotland arrives in his small world. Mac, as he comes to know him, brings the outside world to him.
It is only a day or two before I see the Scotsman again, walking along beside the river. mac, he is called, at least that’s what they call him when they whisper his business in the bar. And now I see why he is making so much talk. He looks for all the world like a detective. He’s wearing a great black cape and had of felted wool, and he is puffing on a pipe as if he’s Sherlock Holmes. ~Pg. 23
Thomas is sufficiently naive without being irritating to the reader. He is old enough to know that he is too young to matter in the town. It’s a frustrating place to be and is always looking for ways to make himself useful. This often results in bringing a gift to or helping the Macs in some way. In this way, their unlikely friendship grows. Thomas is especially thirsty for positive encouragement in his life. When Mac and his wife say his boat sketches have promise, he is desperate for more of this attention.
Thomas becomes protective of the Macs, and is drawn into a precarious position when the war is declared at the end of the summer. The Suffolk coast is a prime target for German airships. It is only four days after the war begins that the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA) is enacted and life in the quiet fishing town is bizarre and paranoid. Seemingly innocent activities like feeding bread to ducks, flying a kite and buying a pair of binoculars was forbidden. Pub hours were reduced to lunch and dinner only, and all the beer had to be watered down.
And when the air-raids began, the fear of anything German was rampant. This included the Macs. They had recently worked with architects in Austria and Germany. They had book with German words in it. And Mac had a pair of binoculars for watching the birds. Thomas, so often seen and not heard, does his best to protect the Macs from the suspicious towns people. And in so doing, learns what is most important to him.
The story is engaging and easy to read. Thomas is reminiscent of the voice of Dylan Thomas in A Child’s Christmas in Wales. All the intricacies of a lost time and place come alive in this book.
Thanks to the folks at Bloomsbury for the review copy.
Imprint: Bloomsbury USA
Dimensions: 5 1/2″ x 8 1/4″
List price: $26.00